Theory Of A Deadman

March 6th 2016 | Norwich Waterfront | Gigs

Words: Hugh Lynch

The evening of pop-disguised-as-rock at the Fine City's salubrious venue began with this reviewer standing at the back of the serpentine 'queue of misery' in the cold Norfolk night, musing on the way the sad, shivering line has become embedded in the gig-going experience; the 'marks' not only have to wait for the tickets, they now queue up to get into the venue, find a space and pray that some bulky rugby players laden with beer who arrive two minutes before the band comes on don't push their way in front.  As those around me in the line talked not in excited tones about the band and the minutiae that fans love, but about everyday problems of car insurance, aberrant behaviour by their children, and lost love, I fully realised that coming out on a Sunday night to a gig represents a desire to be taken out of the humdrum and be, to use an old-fashioned word, entertained. So – did tonight's ensembles entertain us?

It's not an easy thing, the opener in a triple bill; twenty minutes in the limelight, then off-stage to be, perhaps forgotten. First support act Forever Never, hailing from Billericay, wanted us to have a 'f**king good time'; clearly a 'good time' without the expletive was not going to be enough for their warm-up spot. The band demonstrated this intention by promptly exhorting the crowd to raise hands-in-the-air-like-they-just-don't-care and respond 'whoa-whoa' in the vocalist's desire for some good old 'call-and-response', which was far too soon, considering how long they had just waited out in the cold. I think the crowd would have appreciated the band doing a bit of more warm-up work first before making such demands on them! 

In fairness, the band did provide some catchy hooks and a grinding, chunky sound; but claims on their website that they may have created some new genre of pop/rock are somewhat premature. Vocalist Renny Carroll attempted to get the crowd going with an old '80s AOR chestnut, 'You're The Voice' and, though some of John Waite's upper notes were clearly beyond his range, he belted it out and lo, the effects of the cold North Sea winds were dissipating. And after a plug for the new EP 'Speak Up', we were finally treated to the title track, which chipped away at memories of the cold and focussed attention.

However, ten seconds into the set by second band on the bill, Royal Republic, all the way from Malmo - and that's a mighty long way - it was clear that the bar had been ratcheted up several notches: A lean and muscular sound, crisp drumming, guitars that sounded like, well, guitars, and a front line that oozed charisma - the immaculately groomed singer Adam Grahn, moustache waxed to perfection, and a voice that could go anywhere he wanted to take it.

Something 'retro' in the look and sound, ironically, made them feel very 'now' and fresh. Suited and booted, they reminded me sonically of The Jam but had a humour that would have led them to conquer the cabaret world had they been around some years back. Alarming and amusing facial tics and mannerisms abounded; here was a band who knew darn well they were not the main event but that was not going to stop them delivering a tight show, and to create goodwill, something they did in spades, leading to approving nods and smiles all round and mutterings of 'these are really good', making me feel that many of this audience would return to see them, perhaps, headlining their own show. In short, their 30-minute set was a revelation, not long enough, and one where you could not predict from one number what the next would be. Fantastic.

Finally, the headliner act: Candian rock band Theory of a Deadman. Now, I like them, and I really want to be as enthusiastic about them, but I have to tell the truth: they provided a show that was well-planned, well-rehearsed, well-played... but unfortunately their performance tonight appeared to be aimed at the most die-hard/hardcore fans, a group which by no means encompassed all those present.

Like many contemporary bands, Theory of a Deadman have a sound and they are gonna use it, and finding the band appealing will depend on your taste for what is essentially pop disguised as rock. This is nothing new – think Richie Blackmore's Rainbow or Whitesnake, both purveyors of catchy hooks awash with overdriven guitars. Not a bad thing, but let us at least admit what it is. Essentially, if Tyler's songs like 'Santa Monica' and his mid-range vocal style are to your liking, then Theory of a Deadman are your kind of band. 

To be fair, the show started well: following a PA blast of 'Blame Canada' from the South Park movie, the slide-guitar-dominated opener promised, I thought, some fresh and different sounds. But by the time they hit the second number, I felt – unlike the previous band – that I knew what was coming. The laconic delivery of 'The Bitch Came Back', a humorous and cynical song, delighted the largely-female front-row audience, but it took until 'All or Nothing' for the band's true colours come shining through, with a song that would not be out of place on a Ronan Keating album; not a criticism in itself, indeed perhaps the only reason Keating is more popular is that he did not call his band 'Westdead'.

And thus we have a set by a band where one could – if listening carefully – hear the stage directions as they moved here and there; stood still for the sound montage of North American references; and at one part left the stage so the drummer could play on his own for some unfathomable reason.

Although not everyone was a die-hard fan of the bad, the majority of those in attendence enjoyed the band's performance - however, the perimeter of the room was occupied by many who were distracted, disconnected, showing none of the enthusiasm for Theory of a Deadman that they had earlier for Royal Republic, and several small groups left early.

Afterwards, walking out into the depressing surrounding area still thinking about the band, I was hoping that a number of those who gathered in the front and centre of that miasma of sweaty black T-shirts mixed with the aroma of perfume would come out delighted with what they heard. I could see a few groups of people who had been in the gig chatting, but sadly, none of them were discussing the music but instead they talked about of the stuff they faced as Monday morning loomed. Says it all, really.

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