Winger - LIVE: Islington Academy, London 2014

Better Days Comin' Tour
June 21 (20:30 - 22:00)
Capacity 800

Following on from the release of Better Days Comin', Winger were joined by hard rock outfits BlackWolf and Jettblack for what threatened to be an evening of smoking, melody-fuelled rock 'n' roll.

The venue had begun to fill rather nicely by the time BlackWolf took to the stage and casually hammered into the opening number Mr. Maker. The band were somehow both energetic and breezy at the same time, with frontman Scott Sharp showing off his impressive vocal abilities and lead guitarist John Greenhill nonchalantly ploughing through melodic and well-phrased solos. The band also put out a rather balanced setlist, with enough stompers to warm the crowd up nicely while displaying a suitable amount of crowd interaction for a lesser-known opening band. Overall, BlackWolf opened up with an impressive display of heavy blues rock and are certainly a band to watch out for in the future.

The transition between the two support acts was a short one, however that's almost a necessity given the venue's early curfew. A near full capacity crowd had gathered by the time JettBlack kicked into screamer Get Your Hands Dirty, a track that was met by chanting and fist-pumping punters. Yet, although some portions of the crowd lapped up the band's set, other than the break for the somewhat corny Prison of Love, the majority of the tracks tended to blend together into a mash of harmonized guitars, pinched harmonics and high-pitched vocal wails. JettBlack's final number of Raining Rock closed their set well, and although they were by no means a poor band, at times it felt as though they could have introduced some breathing room within their set. In fact, they did a suitable job of warming the crowd up, however BlackWolf with their well-written songs and blues-tinged edge were arguably the stronger of the two.

Winger got off to a storming start with Midnight Driver of A Love Machine before punching into a set filled to the brim with crowdpleasers and hits such as Down Incognito, Easy Come Easy Go and Hungry. The set in general was well balanced as they also performed arguably most of the best tracks from Karma and Better Days Comin', although Tin Soldier and the title track of the latter did miss out on a spot. Things also slowed down nicely for Miles Away before heading into the progish number of Heading For A Heartbreak providing some diversity and air within the set. The evening's set also appeared to be longer than some of the others on this leg of the tour, given that before the closing few numbers, a guitar tech popped up onto the stage in a spinal tap like moment to notify Mr. Winger that he still had another 30 minutes to fill. This was of course after Kip had thrown the setlist into the crowd.

Considering that the show took place on Kip Winger's 53rd birthday, the man, and the band in general, show no sign of ageing as they energetically worked across the stage all night. Everything sound tight and well rehearsed, while the band seemed to really feed off the energy and responsiveness of the audience. In fact, with a band as musically skilled as Winger, it was a joy to watch when Beach and Roth tore through the Saint Solos, or show off their abilities within each of their own guitar solos. Winger himself also demonstrated how to perfectly interact with a crowd, leaving enough time for chatter with the audience between songs, but never allowing it to go to the point of a Paul Stanley kind of monologue.

The show finished up with an impressive Reb Beach solo leading into the ever popular Seventeen before a member of the audience was invited to play bass on Van Halen's Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love. During the final number, Kip climbed across the barrier into the crowd with a microphone, giving various members of the audience a chance to try their hand at singing. All in all, Winger were near enough faultless throughout, and regardless of some complaints about the set, their quality as musicians and enthusiasm towards the crowd made for an energetic and just purely enjoyable show. As a member of the audience noted, 'Kip Winger has always been cool', and whether that's true or not, on his 53rd birthday he and his band were on fire.

BlackWolf setlist: Mr Maker / Moving Mountains / Keep Moving On / Sleepwalking / Black Hole Friend / Relief / Sea of Mercy

JettBlack setlist: Get Your Hands Dirty / Broken Bones / Mother Fucker / Prison of Love / Kick In The Teeth / In-Between Lovers / Slip It On / Raining Rock

Winger setlist: Midnight Driver of A Love Machine / Easy Come Easy Go / Hungry / Pull Me Under / Down Incognito / Guitar Solo (Jon Roth) / Deal With The Devil / Stone Cold Killer / Rat Race / Drum Solo / Miles Away / Headed For Heartbreak / Can't Get Enuff / Blind Revolution Man / Madalaine / Saint Solos / Guitar Solo (Reb Beach) / Seventeen / Ain't Talkin' Bout' Love'

Written by James Abel
More: 2014, Gigs, Hard/Heavy Rock,

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