The Joiners, Southampton
Wednesday 22nd April 2015
Luke 'Loki' Milne
The Joiners Arms in Southampton has played host to some truly high-caliber acts since its birth as a live music venue in 1968. Oasis, The Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream, Verve, Radiohead, Coldplay, Skunk Ananasie and David Gray have all taken to The Joiner's stage throughout the course of its history – bursting into the spotlight of front-page fame shortly thereafter.
Fame, however, is certainly no stranger to the frontman of this night's headline act; James Toseland is a man most recognised for his high-speed exploits on the Moto GP scene, winning two Superbike World Championships during his career and becoming the Sports Personality Of The Year of 2007.
2011 saw Toseland's racing career brought to an unfortunate and untimely end thanks to a wrist injury sustained in Aragon, Spain, however this enabled the former Superbike racer to focus his attention on his other passion in life – music.
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A keen pianist and singer/songwriter, Toseland began performing with his band Crash for a short time before stepping away to carve life into a new band – a band which takes his last name for its own (just to confuse things!). Toseland have seen success from the offset in the form of the release of their début album 'Renegade', with early performance opportunities to appear alongside The Darkness, Reef and Aerosmith - as well as an invitation to perform at Donnington's Download Festival.
It seems apparent that the band and its frontman have seen fit to continue living life in the fast lane, and tonight's performance at The Joiners marks the final date of a UK tour that began some two weeks ago in Brighton with support from London Grunge-Rock act Rival State. Opening the stage for tonight's main event? A young Hard Rock act from Portsmouth – Velvetine.
Instantly firing up the venue with the hard and catchy 'Dead Before You Die', it's clear from the offset that this quartet of young musicians takes inspiration from bands like Black Stone Cherry, mixing driving bass riffs and heavy rock chord progressions with emotive and powerful vocals. Velvetine frontman Joseph Sillence has an impressive vocal range and tone, delivering some punchy outbursts that cry back to the Glam genre of 80s Rock – a style that the band confess to exploring in previous years.
As Velvetine continue through their set with 'Last Night' (taken from their new EP), I notice that the band's members are having to tackle a rather unfortunate and unavoidable obstacle. Stacks of gear positioned at the rear of the stage (for the later performers) has pushed the four-piece forward into a slightly awkward side-by-side formation, drumkit included. This serves to diminish the band's stage presence, and what could have been an energetic and forceful performance from Velvetine is reduced to a somewhat simpler mix of power stances, side-step shuffles and light headbanging.
It's a shame, as Velvetine's driven and edgy music certainly warrants a more aggravated response from both band and crowd. Their stereotypical Hard Rock songwriting maintains the expectations of the genre while taking advantage of some interesting riffs and melodies that are catchy, exciting and, in a sense, easy (almost familiar) on the ears.
Velvetine may not be breaking moulds or rewriting the annuls of music history (and while it's still a little too early to let loose with some hell-raising headbanging) but my fellow crowd members and I can't help but nod our heads along as they work their way through their enjoyable set.
I will confess to experiencing a very minor case of the "dubya-tee-effs" as the four-piece decided to flick over to a more Punk-Rock vibe for their newest song 'Are We There Yet'. While it definitely presented an enjoyable change of pace and feel, it felt a touch unexpected and alien in comparison to the rest of their set; a feeling that was only strengthened by the fact that the band snapped straight back into their Hard Rock roots, rounding off their set with the last couple of songs with seemingly nothing in the way of a transitional piece to soften the blow.
While I suppose some might accuse me of nit-picking, it's a minor point that hasn't really sullied my overall experience of Velvetine, whose honest and loyal approach on the Hard Rock genre has suitably warmed the stage at The Joiners and presented the band as an enjoyable and promising act to keep an eye on.
Personal space is starting to become something of a luxury and the heat is rising in the Southampton venue. Thankfully there's just enough time to grab a breath of fresh air and another drink at the bar before London-based Rival State take the stage.
Rival State waste no time in turning things up a notch at The Joiners, bursting into their set with a punchy, rhythmic track that seethes with grit, guts and Grunge. Grunge is certainly the key word here; the band unashamedly draws musical inspiration from some obvious sources, with Luke Van Hoof sporting a very Kurt Cobain-esque hairstyle, coupled with a very familiar and deliberate stage swagger akin to the 90's era that so many music fans still cling to.
It's as effective, charming and captivating as it is arrogant, but never once falls into the realm of the unendurable thanks to the efforts of his fellow bandmates. While Velvetine perhaps struggled with the diminished stage size, Rival State use it to their advantage. Van Hoof takes a step forward to meet the crowd as he pushes vocal melodies through the air with a unique and interesting tone, and although his bandmates have remained in the background, it isn't long before that changes.
At the rise of each chorus and every balls-out crescendo within the band's music, guitarists Nimal Fernando and Jo Einarsson (along with his brother Stefan on bass guitar) lunge forward in a flurry of energetic movement and aggressive bravado, meeting Van Hoof at the frontlines of the stage to tear through their rough and raw music with clear smiles of enjoyment on their faces.
Rival State present The Joiners with a well-rounded and enjoyable mix; The music is slick, sexy, and laced with just the right amount of aggression in just the right places to present a multi-dimensional performance that pours fluidly into the Joiner's crowd. The band's sound and physical presence are both dynamic, chaotic and great fun to be a part of, and there's a real 'Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll' feel to their performance (especially through tracks like 'Aces' and 'Four Leaf Clover') which entices a positive reaction from many of the crowd members.
I've said it plenty of times before, though perhaps not in print: The sheer level of grit, musicianship and skill that pours from London-based bands is not only impressive every time I hear it, but also incredibly unique. Rival State are no exception to this rule. Yes, I'm probably just saying that because I've gotten used to the local bands in my local music scene. Sure, it's a huge generalisation too, and there probably are shit bands in London. Thankfully, I haven't come across one yet.
As the night presses on, the rising heat in The Joiners has soared and that thing called "personal space" that I mentioned earlier has faded into a distant memory as the headline act of tonight's show draws near. I barely notice the members of Toseland slip from the dressing room to the stage from behind me. There's no backstage area at The Joiners, so the band have had to weave through the crowd to get stageside. I've heard The Joiner's referred to as "intimate", but when the band members have to shuffle through the crowd with a quick word of apology, that's saying something!
A darkened stage beckons the final act of the night, accompanied by an atmospheric introductory track. James Toseland arrives, welcomed to the stage by the cheers and applause of the now-thick crowd, the frontline of which stands less than an arms length away from him.
Prior to their appearance here at The Joiners I took it upon myself to give their début album 'Renegade' a couple of play-throughs. It's a strong release that presents a varied and enjoyable romp through an unmistakable Rock and Roll sound, with song-writing elements that some might argue is almost akin to that of older Rock bands such as Aerosmith - whom of course the band have shared a stage with previously, as mentioned earlier.
James Toseland's voice is clear, distinct and filled with character, echoing the likes of Miles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, and is impressive to say the least; driving the weave of memorable verse and chorus melodies atop the distorted guitar chords and choppy, hard-hitting rhythms of their material.
Tonight, however, as the band launch into their set with the highly energised 'Crash Landing', the clinical and polished shine of their studio release has been roughed around the edges and graced with a thick additional layer of volume, character and bite. James Toseland himself is a joy to watch onstage, and his Miles Kennedy-style vocals are even more impressive to receive in person as he works alongside his bandmates to create a lively and fluid physical performance.
Another particular highlight for me is delivered in the form of bassist Roger Davies, who works tirelessly throughout the band's set to rile up the lefthand pocket of the crowd and entice us to sing along to tracks like 'Life Is Beautiful'. The heat rises both onstage and in the pit as Toseland soar through their setlist with a huge and cutting sound, pushed on by the cheers from the crowd – whose age range varies quite dramatically, with the youngest crowd member being just 11 years old!
Toseland's set continues with infectious attitude and expert delivery - in spite of some minor technical difficulties experienced by guitarist Ed Bramford - and the band grace the crowd with a fantastic set to round off their tour that includes the new song 'Strength', which James hints may appear on the band's next album.
With the final songs of the evening approaching and the night drawing to a close, It's clear that the band have enjoyed the rather intimate final performance of their tour just as much as the crowd, and it has certainly served as a fantastic evening of music from both Toseland and their support acts.
I'd like close this review by taking a moment to consider the organisers, who have not only pulled the strings of tonight's event, but also many like it. Advance Promotions, who are themselves based in Southampton, have secured some fantastic live performances of late, bringing professional bands to small, local venues for a damn good ticket price. It's great to see bands like Toseland perform on such close quarters, and I've certainly picked up on a few upcoming gigs organised by Advance Promotions that I'll be going to even if I don't intend on reviewing them.
The performances here at the Joiners represent success not only for the three bands that have performed but also Advance Promotions, whose work within event organisation continues to create must-see opportunities and memorable nights. As such, I'd like my final words of this review to be a message of thanks to Velvetine, Rival State, Toseland and Advance Promotions for a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable performance!
Photos by Triple Six Photography