Gig Review: Those Damn Crows / The Cruel Knives – Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton (13th October 2023)

It’s Friday night and, for many, the start of the weekend. It’s a strange sensation to be in Wolverhampton for a show which isn’t hosted at KK Downing’s gaff but the re-opening of The Halls has allowed for even more flexibility for bands to hit the West Midlands when they’re touring. And tonight, it’s playing host to a band who have had a hell of a 2023 – Those Damn Crows. With a chart-busting album at the start of the year, their biggest headline tour following it, opening for the Goo Goo Dolls, as well as Hollywood Vampires, and of course, that Steelhouse set, this new headline tour eclipses the one from the start of the year.

Opening for the Welsh lads tonight is another Steelhouse 2023 alumThe Cruel Knives. Having caught them a few times, primarily supporting The Pretty Reckless, their set on a rainy Welsh mountain a few months back was the one which made it click. And that click is still firmly in place. There’s a hearty response to their arrival and to skip to the end, it’s dwarfed by the reaction they receive at the end of their set, especially as there’s some people here just to see them. Much like Steelhouse, their alternative slant on modern rock feels a little out of place but it works. Because it’s still energetic and captivating like tonight’s headliners.

Frontman Tom Harris knows how to work the crowd, giving a shoutout to his hometown of Dudley which receives a hearty response as well as verbally sparring with someone who screams “I want to have your babies!” But it’s nothing compared to when the band are in full flight, cutting an imposing figure as he struts across the stage, his vocals a blend of rasp and smooth which alternates expertly to serve the songs. Elsewhere, the early appearance of “Overdose” allows for an extended solo from Sid Glover without feeling extraneous with hints of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” bleeding through and into its aftermath. It’s a hard, past-paced set which runs through their entire career and whilst it might not be their crowd, they seem to pick up new fans with their infection energy and dynamic crossover sound.

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There’s a familiar cawing to introduce the reason we’re all here and four-fifths of the band take there places before Shane Greenhall leaps out of the wings. Those Damn Crows are back in action for another night and as ever, aren’t messing around. Pulling extremely heavily from Inhale/Exhale, the only song from this year’s album which doesn’t put in an appearance tonight is its opener, “Fill the Void” and the album makes up the vast majority of tonight’s set. And in the live environment, it’s easy to see why; as a band that has always made great albums, this is the one that is built for the road. Peppering in older material, it gives the newer songs a timeless quality and when it’s time for album four, it’ll be hard to image any of these songs gone from the set – unless they go down the Clutch route of playing a different set every night.

It’s hard to even pick out a highlight because every song in its own right could stand as one. Exuding power and fragility in equal measure and able to wear their hearts on their sleeves, even on the more sombre and tamer moments, the band know how to deliver a thrilling set which is testament to their songwriting and stagecraft. Whilst the middle of the set brings the high-octane action down a notch, there’s never a point where you’re asking for them to break out the heavier material. The brooding “I Am” sits with the confessional “Lay it All on Me” as two sides of the same coin whilst “Waiting For Me” is atmospheric and cinematic as Inhale/Exhale’s closer and is an ideal way to keep the heat simmering for the final blow in this section.

Having shown it off at Steelhouse a couple of months back, Greenhall takes to the keys for “Blink of an Eye”. Despite being a big, bombastic number from the debut album, it’s been transformed into a big late-80s/early-90s Aerosmith-style ballad. And just like that warm summer evening, it hits just as hard tonight. The fresh lick of paint gives new life to a song that has long been a staple of their set and if they choose to revert it back to its original form, it will be just as welcome as it is in its current format.

However, it’s the final run of songs where the band push the accelerator back to the floor with the gritty and snotty “Go Get It” before “Rock and Roll Ain’t Dead” sees Greenhall disappearing as he takes a wander through the venue before reappearing on top of the balcony. “Sin on Skin” brings a swagger and sneer to the night before the finale of the heartbreaking “This Time I’m Ready” and the punchy “See You Again”. And based on a performance like that, it can’t come too soon.

Tighter than they’ve ever been, the quintet know how to deliver a live show, relying on the songs on their skills to do the talking, rather than flashy elements to create a show and distract from the band’s performance. The twin guitarists of Shiner and David Winchurch are fairly static as their crunching riffs effortlessly wind around each other at times or bounce off one another in symbiosis. But the rest of the band make up for it with Greenhall prowling the stage, as does bassist Lloyd Wood, and Ronnie Huxford is an entertaining and skilled drummer to watch. So much so that in the spirit of keeping things different and fresh, Wood and Huxford join forces for a jam session whilst the rest of the band departs the stage. It’s far more entertaining than a straight-up drum solo as the pair go back and forth, feeding off each other and it allows Wood in particular to show how skilled a bassist he is, attacking his four strings like a guitar, managing to work in some finger tapping and making some filthy riffs.

It’s a far overdue experience to catch Those Damn Crows headline after catching them all the way back at Wildfire in 2017 and following them since as they landed support slots and festival sets. Seeing their growth and progression is something of a fairytale in this day and age but it is indeed real. At every turn, they’ve managed to deliver exhilarating performances and tonight is no exception.

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Header image by Paul Hutchings

Those Damn Crows: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube | bigcartel

The Cruel Knives: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube

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