This is Brad’s first time touring the UK since their formation in 1992 and the sense of anticipation in the air is palpable. However, before the twenty year wait is over we are subjected to New Killer Shoes who describe themselves as “a fusion of 90s grunge, pop, punk & indie rock with a dash of ska added to make a provocative cocktail for today’s discerning music lovers.” Unfortunately, I find their music to be clichéd, generic rock that meant you can guess the melody of the next line even on a first listen, as it is that obvious. They certainly have grand plans as the lead singer, Jon Kings, addresses the audience as if he is playing a sell-out show at the LG Arena and they definitely present an enthusiastic performance, which pleases small pockets of the crowd. As their set finishes, I am left wondering why they are supporting Brad and certain that I will not be willingly seeking out any of their music in the near future.
Shortly after nine, Brad take to the stage and the venue erupts; starting with Buttercup, the opening track of their first album. The distinctive vocal style of Shawn Smith floods through the setting, as he takes to the keyboard looking like a young Leon Russell demonstrating his utter competency at songwriting and performance. The first three songs of the set are all taken from Shame which is exactly what the majority of the audience are craving. Despite seeing Smith perform a solo event nearly five years ago, to hear these songs played by the full band is immense; especially when you see what a close musical group they are, reading tempo changes with minimal onstage communication. This isn’t surprising as you could call Brad a Seattle super-group, consisting of members from legendary bands such as Satchel, Pigeonhed and of course Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam. Despite their calibre, each one of the band looks like they are thoroughly enjoying the experience, including new member Happy Chichester, and are giving the performance their all.
Waters Deep, taken from Brad’s latest album, sees the full extent of Smith’s vocal range unleashed adding a hint of vibrato to the extended notes, taking on the air of a pastor leading a congregation with arms raised at poignant moments in the song. As Shawn returns to the keyboard, Gossard trades his guitar for bongos for the rhythmic 20th Century and commendably keeps the essence of the song continuing throughout. Brad have the versatility to switch easily between heavier and more upbeat tracks to the slower and more thought-provoking songs, taking the audience on the journey with them. After a rousing rendition of Diamond Blues, Smith leaves the stage temporarily and vocal duty lies at the feet of Stone Gossard; Desenfando sees Gossard competently fulfil his new role, however, I don’t think Smith or Vedder have to worry too much. The final song of the main set is Screen, which, for many is the pinnacle of the event. The majority of the audience are singing along with most of the track and the band give it their all, finishing with an extended outro which results in ecstatic appreciation.
The encore sees Smith enter the stage alone, sit down at the keyboard and play Suffering by Satchel, one of Shawn’s other projects, leaving the crowd suitably hushed after the previous demands of an encore. The solo element continues with Wrapped In My Memory which segues into the Mother Love Bone classic, Crown of Thorns. The song requires a restart as Smith is not happy with the sound, but despite his adaptation of the melody sees much of the audience singing along in memory of the great Andrew Woods. After this brief solo interlude, the rest of the band rejoin for The Day Brings and Lift which sees the emotional rollercoaster take a further turn, heading towards a surprise cover version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I am certain The Rolling Stones would be very proud to hear their track covered with such verve and competency, seeing every member of the band grooving with the riff. After nearly two hours, Brad finish their performance the way they began with Buttercup, the lyrics “we’re through” adding a sentimental and pertinent element to what has gone before. It may have taken twenty years for Brad to grace these shores but, by god, it was well worth the wait; hopefully it won’t be such a long absence in the future.
Review by Toni Woodward
Photographs by Steve Gerrard