Gig Review: Ugly Kid Joe / Massive Wagons / Chris Catalyst – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (11th November 2022)

As impressive touring line-ups go for unadulterated, fun rock and roll, you can’t do much better than a double header of Massive Wagons and Ugly Kid Joe. With both bands buoyed by recent album releases, and this being the last night of the tour, you can bet both bands are going to give it everything. Not that either have ever done anything less in the live environment.

Chris Catalyst (c) Gary Cooper

With such a stacked bill already and both giving headline-length sets, it means that opener Chris Catalyst is on just after the doors open. And with the day job, it meant I got there just as he was finishing his second last song. But as the lone guitarist/vocalist bangers with the crowd, he’s got the massive crowd in the palm of his hand. But when you play alongside Papa Emeritus IV, you’re bound to pick up a trick or two. Foregoing his cover of “Ashes to Ashes” as a closer, he opts for “The best song ever written”. So it’s awkward when he plays A-ha’s “Take on Me”, rather than “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Regardless, the A-ha hit is a great pop song and all pretence from the assembled rockers is gone as they happily join in. If that was what was on offer just from the final song, then I’m sure the rest of his set would have been just as dazzling.

Following the quickest turnaround ever, Massive Wagons take to the stage. Instead of exploding onto the stage, they set themselves up to be primed and ready to go. Indeed, it takes a few songs to get up to their usual pace, and this different approach works well in their favour. It comes across very workmanlike but by the time “Fee Fi Fo Fum” ends, the shackles are well and truly off and they’re the deranged, energetic beast we’ve all come to know them for.

Drawing massively from their new album, Triggered, the bouncing crowd are welcoming the new numbers as warmly as they do with “Ratio” and “Nails”. Interestingly, the new material comes across more edgy, skewing more into alternative rock with a light pop sheen. It’s worn well by the band, the growth and development from a musical standpoint may seem strange for a band so rooted in classic rock but it goes down well with the crowd and fits in nicely with the older songs. At the end of it all, Massive Wagons are still all about making fun, bouncy rock tunes, their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks whilst also taking a swipe at those who deserve it such as their call-to-arms “Fuck the Haters” and the searing “A.S.S.H.O.L.E.”

Massive Wagons (c) Gary Cooper

Elsewhere, “China Plates” ticks the “fuck social media” box that every band has to have. Thankfully, Massive Wagons were there before most others and frontman Baz Mills’ sardonic lyrics equalled by his delivery strips social media bare, showing how ridiculous the entire thing is (yet we all still use it). Duelling guitars from the band sound less chunky and less reliant on chugging along as before, opting for texture and melody but still paying homage to the fine art of the riff. For Massive Wagons, it presents them in a more mature light, albeit they still don’t have any song in their set that could even come close to slow with Mills jokingly lamenting the fact.

If there’s one band you could never accuse of phoning it in, it’s Massive Wagons. They may have taken a bit to get going but once firing on all cylinders, the rest of their performance is relentless in its delivery. Showing they’re perfect match for their American counterparts, this isn’t a case of them warming up for the headliners like I’ve seen them do so often, this was them on equal footing and as a band, has what it takes to deliver a headline performance in more than just having enough material. Their slow but steady ascendancy over the past decade has been well-earned with this proving their mettle once more, laying down a friendly gauntlet for the final band of the night.

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Taking no prisoners and well up for the challenge laid before them by Massive Wagons, Ugly Kid Joe burst out of the gate with “That Ain’t Livin’” from Rad Wings of Destiny. Joined by Chris Catalyst on bass for the set who handles the material like it’s his own, the band are intent to make the last performance of the tour one to remember. And as they hit the early stop of “Neighbour”, it’s a show that instantly becomes etched in Ugly Kid Joe’s and KK’s history. Mainly because the power went out in the room. Lights, PA, fancy LED wall (I’m sure that’s the technical name for it) – everything gone. And what do the band do? Continue playing. As the band continue to hit their notes as if everything was screaming out of the PA, Whitfield Crane leads the band through the second half of the song in darkness, showing their professionalism as they take it in their stride, still managing to entertain under the circumstances and giving Wolverhampton a show they’ll never forget.

Ugly Kid Joe (c) Gary Cooper

Rattling through every corner of their career without much stopping for a breath, they continue to be one of the tightest and entertaining bands around. With their punk-edged riffs and a nod to AC/DC in there for good measure on their new album, it bleeds into their older work and shows that good old hard rock is still as appealing as it ever was. Singalongs and clapping are encouraged on pretty much every song and the band burst with energy, there’s a definite chemistry about them and a reminder that even before the power cut, Ugly Kid Joe are an incredibly underrated live act.

Naturally, it’s the last few songs which take their set to the next level with their cover of “Lola” before Baz from Massive Wagons takes to the stage once more as he joins them for AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. Mills’ raspier vocals blend well with Crane’s slicker and sneering tones. But the best part of it is the performance itself, neither frontman trying to outdo each other and instead shows the camaraderie which should take place on tour. Naturally, there’s only one song Ugly Kid Joe could end with and as the final “You” of “Everything About You” is about to be spat, Chris Catalyst is poised and ready and that bass line starts, one that instantly sets the hairs on the back of my neck to attention. What was already an active crowd all night becomes unglued when “Ace of Spades” kicks in and for a final song, it represents what both headliners are about.

Neither Massive Wagons or Ugly Kid Joe are bands I have on heavy rotation at home. But when either of those bands are touring or as part of a great tour package or on a festival bill, you’ll be damn sure I’ll be there watching them. Because whilst they both take their craft seriously, there’s humour within whilst ensuring they put on as entertaining a performance they can muster. And both deliver, time after time.

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Photos by Gary Cooper Photography

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