W.A.S.P. @ The Ulster Hall, Belfast

Monday September 24th 2012
Review by Mark Ashby

Blackie Lawless and Belfast have a history…. A storied one.

The first time W.A.S.P. were booked to play this very same venue, in support of their self-titled debut album, they were banned, due to the excesses of their stage show at the time (something about naked women being whipped and raw meat into the audience was deemed offensive by the powers-that-were).

They eventually managed to tread the boards of the historic Ulster Hall two years later, on 1986’s ‘Electric Circus’ tour… a little over two-and-half years later, their return is remembered as much for the near riot outside as the awesome ‘Headless Children’ stageshow: Blackie, of course, recounts the story at the end of tonight’s set – even if he does get his facts wrong!

So, roll the clock forward half a lifetime, and the current incarnation of W.A.S.P. return to the ‘Grand Dame of Bedford Street’, as this Victorian music hall is affectionately nicknamed, for the fourth show in what promises to be a suitably massive global trek to mark ‘30 Years Of Thunder’. To mark the anniversary, fans also had been promised “the biggest spectacle W.A.S.P. have ever created” – a two hour show, complete with “multiple video screens, pyrotechnics, elements from the early W.A.S.P. shows and Blackie’s moving microphone stand ‘Elvis’!

Well, we got the video screens (three of them) and we got ‘Elvis’, albeit belatedly – but no pyro or anything else to make up the advertised “greatest W.A.S.P. show ever” (the aforementioned ‘Electric Circus’ show of a quarter of a century ago was much more impressive)… and a set that was a good 15-20 minutes shy of the promised two hours. But, then, it could be argued that you don’t need a huge, spectacular stageshow when you are more than capable of enthralling and entertaining an almost-capacity audience (a significant proportion of whom weren’t even conceived the last time W.A.S.P. played this venue) in the way that the man born Steven Edward Duren can do…

After his current sidekicks – guitarist Doug Blair, bassist Mike Duda and drummer Mike Dupke – use the darkness to take up their respective positions, the stagelights rise to show the mainman walking confidently onstage, dressed in a souvenir 30th anniversary American Football top and what looks like a black body suit, complete with fake chainsaw wristbands (one of the very few theatrical nods to the band’s early stageshows) – and a pair of fringed off-white boots that obviously had been lying in the back of his wardrobe since the mid-1980s!

In the centre of the stage is a raised platform, upon which stands Lawless’ microphone: the dais is not an ego thing, but is needed later to support ‘Elvis’, but does help to serve to give the frontman an additional presence, as he pummels the audience into early submission with the opening barrage of ‘On Your Knees’ and ‘The Torture Never Stops’. After the latter, the three screens are unveiled to show the first video of the night – ‘The Real Me’ – and it’s a bit weird watching former members of the W.A.S.P. machine, such as Chris Holmes, Randy Piper and Johnny Rod, strutting their stuff while the present line-up reproduce the old classics in front of them.

On of the big criticisms of W.A.S.P. the last time they played Belfast – up the road at the local university at the tail end of 2010 – had been their extensive use of backing tapes, especially for the vocals. While there are some keyboard effects used this time around, it is extremely obvious that Blackie – despite occasionally seeming to be watching the videos for cues – is singing live, especially as his vocals waver a few times, most notably on the otherwise rousing ‘L.O.V.E. Machine’ (which the crowd more than ably carry on his behalf) and later on ‘The Idol’. But, he’s ever the showman, and even hugely dated tricks such as dividing the audience in two for an old-fashioned call-and-response routine during ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’ evoke a totally raucous response.

The middle section of the show, appropriately, is given over to a retrospective of ‘The Crimson Idol’, the (at the time) much-maligned and critically under-appreciated concept album, which itself celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. This is where the video screens truly come into their own, looping the accompanying promo clips to add much-needed atmosphere to the live rendition of the album’s edited highlights.

The critic’s only real complaint is about Mike Dupke’s needlessly overlong drum solo, which quite suitably (in my mind) was accompanied by videos of car crashes, before a top-notch version of ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ and the always impressive ‘Blind In Texas’ brought the night to an all-too premature conclusion – with Blackie finishing the set perched on top of ‘Elvis’, the audience baying for an encore that never materialized… Still, another great night in the company of one of heavy metal’s great characters (even if his alleged return to his Christian roots means his refusal to play certain songs leaves diehard fans chuckling to themselves at some of the choices actually included in the current-day W.A.S.P. set…)

Set list:
On Your Knees,
The Torture Never Stops,
The Real Me,
L.O.V.E. Machine,
Wild Child, Hellion / I Don’t Need No Doctor / Scream Until You Like It, Sleeping (In The Fire) / Forever Free,
The Headless Children, I Wanna Be Somebody,
The Titanic Overture,
The Crimson Idol Medley (The Invisible Boy/Arena Of Pleasure/I Am One/The Gypsy Meets The Boy) ,
The Idol, The Great Misconceptions Of Me,
Drum Solo,
Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The Rue Morgue),
Blind In Texas