13 March 2015
Reviewed by Shelley Owens
Arriving at the newly refurbished Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham’s NIA venue has been transformed into a sleek modern arena which is light, bright and very inviting! With easy access parking, restaurants, bars and even private gallery viewing areas that can be booked, the venue has been transformed into a one-stop event experience and is a far cry from its previous incarnation, we were very impressed!
We arrived at the venue to see the crowds pouring into the various entrances which are clearly marked on each level, standing tickets enter on the lower level entrance where we located the Box Office to collect our tickets before making our way up the stone steps to the seated ticket entrance on the upper level. There were ample stewards to direct us outdoors and indoors and all were exceptionally courteous and well trained. There are now ample bars and food outlets to cater for the crowds on several levels, merchandise stands are also easily accessible and the new mezzanine style extension to the outside of the building has helped to widen the concourse, creating not only more room but has added a seated eating area that overlooks the canal.
There was an amazing buzz amongst a fabulous crowd who were a magnificent mix of diehard Thunder fans who have followed them across their many incarnations and those that they have picked up along the way! Not surprisingly there were younger members of the audience as the bands success has now spanned several generations but also the followers of their brilliant supporting acts Tax the Heat and Reef of Place Your Hands and Consideration fame.
Both support acts performed an absolutely amazing set and got the virtually full house loosened up and ready to rock with the headliners Thunder. With albums spanning 3 decades it is truly hard to believe but this was only their second time as the headline act in an arena and almost 25 years after I saw them perform at the Monsters of Rock festival, this was only the second time this huge fan had seen them live!!
Thunder’s line-up may have changed over the years but the unmistakable sound of this now classic rock band has not! Danny Bowes’ unmistakable vocals rang through the arena with guitarist Luke Morley delivering some classic rock rift mash ups from the new album and returning band member Ben Matthews showed off his talents on both guitar and keyboard, proving he is back on form after his recent illness. Masters of tempo “Harry” James on drums and bass player Chris Childs completed the line-up and created a brilliant display of tempo changes and a band that truly plays as one! As both an album and a live show, Wonder Days pays homage to some classic sounds of the ’70s while their nostalgic lyrics reflect on the bands youth with lines like “…happy that I’m old enough to recall when rock was young, all the joy of discovery when there were still songs to be sung…” yes guys, showing my age slightly but me too!!
Opening with a visual display of cult ’70s images the band burst onto stage with the title track and went on to play an incredible mix of both new and classic tracks to a delighted crowd. The set was brilliant but simple, above a backdrop of amps hung a large screen displaying a mixture of live footage and visual effects also displayed on two slightly smaller screens to each side of the stage. The crowd were rocking from the world go, clapping along, tapping their feet and jumping to command! Classic rock ballad, the brilliant Black Water has a fantastic blues feel and shows off Danny’s vocal talents superbly and the instrumental section has a touch of jazz to it… I was in musical heaven! Making reference to band mate Ben Matthews recent battle with cancer before introducing Resurrection Day made the song lyrics all the more poignant, interacting with the crowd as we sang along, it had the feel of a more intimate live performance rather than an arena tour – now that is a talent in itself!
Proving that they have grown musically over the years, piano ballad Broken breaks all the rock rules yet ticks all the boxes at the same time and has “hit” written all over it. Cranking the tempo back up the hit Devil Made Me Do It fitted in well with the Wonder Days theme of misspent youth in spite of being from a previous album as did Empty City with its talk of broken dreams and easy come, easy go lifestyles – blending new and old perfectly, we rocked our way through classics such as Backstreet Symphony, I’ll be waiting and Love Walked in before apparently rounding off with Love you More Than Rock and Roll to rapturous applause and dancing in the stalls.
Returning to the stage for 3 more classic tracks, fans were not disappointed with this show, it definitely rocked our world and I hope as an audience we rocked theirs a little too – Low Life in High places was amazing as we all sang in unison with Danny’s voice floating over the top of the crowd before he took us to a Higher Ground with his Dirty Love – truly a great night and a brilliant buzz amongst the exiting crowds.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to stay for the After Show meet and greet where I was able to grab a few moments with each band member, commenting that it was so hard to believe that this short tour was their first time as arena headliners and the overwhelming feeling amongst them is that they just love playing and performing together, how they got here doesn’t really matter but their music has endured and grown and whether headlining or performing as a guest act, they simply love what they do!
Tonight they have gone on to play at the Hammersmith in London and your next opportunity to see them will be on June 12th at the Download festival in Castle Donnington, 25 years after their Monster of Rock festival appearance and ahead of a tour of Europe before returning to London’s SSE Arena as very special guests of ZZ Top!
True performers, Thunder will not disappoint, whatever the setting and I highly recommend taking the opportunity to see them live if you can. My husband and I had an amazing night reliving a slightly misspent youth and thanks to Wonder Days, now regret none of it!