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O2 Academy, Islington, London
6th June 2014

Nik Underwood: Photos by Noel Buckley

nik underwood

I'll admit that I was really looking forward to this gig by Jake E Lee's Red Dragon Cartel as it would be the the first appearance in the UK by this elusive and, some would say, reclusive guitar legend for a large number of years.

Jake's work with Ozzy on the 'Bark At The Moon' and 'Ultimate Sin' albums have cemented his place in rock history and despite a promising rebirth with Badlands, Jake has been pretty much off the radar for 20 years.

I won't bore you dear reader with the hows and whys but Jake is back with a new mob in the shape of the Red Dragon Cartel. A debut album is out and there are a few videos doing the rounds online and Jake has a new signature model Charvel guitar in the shops and a big smile on his face.

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But it's a pity that no one seems to have told the great and the good of London. Tonight's venue is the far from cavernous O2 Academy Islington and there is plenty of space for the air guitarists for unhindered exuberance.

But hey ho, on with the show...

The band take to the stage and right off the bat Jake rolls back the years with opening number 'The Ultimate Sin'. Ozzy's mid 80s anthem tonight sounds heavier and fresher with singer DJ Smith adding a few drops of grit to Ozzy's whine.

New RDC video/single 'Deceived' is up next with a great driving riff and super catchy chorus. While not exactly modern the RDC sound is heavy and melodic and brings to mind Dee Snider's 90s band Widowmaker. That is a good thing.

As new as they are RDC suffer somewhat from the audience not being so familiar with the new album and it will take a while for these new songs to eclipse the previous phases of Jake's career or indeed sit comfortably alongside, so it's no surprise that the Badlands tracks 'Highwire' and 'Shine On' get the folks singing and cheering.

After another lively new one, 'Shout It Out', we are into another bluesy interlude and an extended solo by Jake. I have to say the man still has great charisma and while technically his playing could have been a little "cleaner" the power to dazzle is still there and there can be no doubting the talent in the fingers on the fretboard.

The rest of the gang on stage give a solid performance but are underwhelming in terms of showmanship. Bassist and album producer Ronnie Mancuso and drummer Jonas Fairly look the part but never really shine.

I'm aware of some less than stellar live vids on YouTube and in particular singer DJ has been under fire for his performance but on record the guy sounds great and tonight me and the others I talked to thought he sounded spot on.

Rounding out the set is RDC track 'Feeder' and then the money-shot that is of course 'Bark At The Moon'. As a guitar geek this was pure Heaven as I reckon the solo to 'BATM' is one of the best ever written and was amazing to see it performed by the originator.

So all in all it was a good solid show and I certainly went home happy to see Jake back from the wilderness and rocking again!

In a sad postscript it seems that the rest of the RDC tour has been cancelled and the band's Download slot is in jeopardy - see other MetalTalk news on the top right hand side of this page for the full details.

Hopefully these issues can be resolved and the Red Dragon Cartel can build on the good foundations they have laid...

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