For me tonight is about seeking empirical proof that two rock bands did indeed have the live chops that friends and other fellow music fans had always insisted they had. Terrorvision always enjoyed a reputation for pleasingly rambunctious live performance, while seemingly 75% of Thunder’s career has been built on their reputation for being one of the finest proponents of the live hard rock experience.
With this in mind, openers King King have the unenviable task of opening for a pair of acts who the audience are expecting great things from, but who are still generally milling about trying to find their bearings in the arena, hitting the merchandising stalls or locating refreshment. The Glaswegian rockers approach their set with a palpable amount of humility, winning the appreciation of those of us that had already found our seats and had gathered front of stage, simply by being cheery, likeable and putting in maximum effort to entertain another band’s fans. It’s often a thankless task, but King King pull it off with a certain amount of class and self-awareness, just happy that they’re ceasing the chance to open for two acts with enviable live credentials.
Terrorvision may not be the most obvious act to tour with Thunder, but their knockabout good-time rock with shameless pop choruses proves to be a fantastic contrast to the more classic hard rocking virtues of Thunder. From the opening “Discotheque Wreck” vocalist Tony Wright hurtles around the stage with the energy of someone twenty years younger, while Mark Yates and Leigh Marklew prowl the stage. Launching into evergreen tunes like “Josephine”, “Celebrity Hit List” and “Bad Actress”, the riffs are big, the songs memorable and Terrorvision simply do not miss a beat, creating an energetic party atmosphere, as the crowd swells. For those Thunder fans previously unfamiliar with Terrorvision, they are given a gloriously fun demonstration of everything great about an act that unarguably deserved a lot more success than they achieved, with the biggest reactions reserved for “Perseverance”, “Alice What’s the Matter” and “Oblivion”.
There’s a palpable sense that Terrorvision have thrown down the gauntlet for Thunder, so between sets there’s no little amount of expectation around whether Thunder will allow themselves to be blown off stage this evening – what had been shaping up to be a memorable evening, may very well prove to be an unforgettable one.
The video screen at the back of the stage comes to life with a succession of iconic images from the 70s and the suddenly Thunder have launched into the title song of last years Wonder Days album and an arena full of dyed in the wool Thunder fans roar into life. Down the years Thunder have inspired devotion in their fans like few before them, and for the outsider it’s sometimes difficult to understand why. And I have to confess, I am an outsider – for a start I am more familiar with Terrorvision’s output than I am Thunder’s. Perhaps it’s because they never had that one huge crossover hit, or maybe because they resisted the temptation to throw all their energies into trying to breakthrough in America, but Thunder have retained a uniquely British tone to them, while so many other UK-born longhaired rockers spent a little too long chasing almighty dollar. This just meant that their fans just held them even more dear and Thunder themselves have developed an innate understanding and connection with their audience and in turn their audience have remained utterly devoted to them. Therefore Thunder have continued to thrive, particularly as a live draw, simply because they are an utterly dependable act who continue to stick to traditional hard rock values regardless of the increasingly rapid evolution of an ever more alienating music industry.
Even as an outsider, it rapidly becomes obvious to me that Danny Bowes continues to be one of the finest hard rock vocalists, and his phenomenal ability to play to / control the crowd is something that is only achieved through endless gigging and decades of experience. Primary songwriter Luke Morley riffs away with the confidence of a man who has utter faith in his bandmates and is just out there to enjoy himself these days, and as one follow writer briefed me before Thunder hit the stage, it’s only when you experience Thunder live that you realise what a stand-out drummer Gary James is.
As established as they are, Thunder do not forget that the songs are the core of their performance, so for an hour and a half Thunder lead their audience on a journey through their bulging songbook of hard rock tunes, with crowd favourites like “Backstreet Symphony”, “Like a Satellite” and “Low Life in High Places”, delivered with a reassuring lack of theatrical distractions, outside of the occasional use of the video screen and a healthy serving of rock and roll stage craft. There’s no overlong guitar solos, no ‘acoustic set’, or unnecessary pyrotechnics, just five blokes appreciating the privilege of performing a bunch of songs to an audience of devoted fans.
Thunder close their rabidly well received encore the only way they could. “Dirty Love” is the closest they ever came to a global hit, and has subsequently become the song that they are most closely associated with and tonight it is performed with the assistance of the whole of Sheffield Arena bellowing the chorus. Yes, Thunder have steadfastly stuck to hard rock values throughout their career, because that’s exactly what their audience want them to do. While there were more globally successful long haired rockers, and those who had bigger hit singles, or iconic studio albums that sold in eye-watering numbers, tonight has proved there is no better live hard rock band than Thunder.
But my word, Terrorvision pushed them closer tonight than anyone expected them to…