It Bites have always been a band with a faithful following, and even the slightly acrimonious departure of original vocalist/guitarist Francis Dunnery (one of the unsung guitar heroes of the late 1980s) has not diminished their dedication. Dunnery himself will be playing at the Robin 2 on October the 31st with his own version of It Bites - Francis Dunnery's Brand New It Bites. But tonight is not about Dunnery, the It Bites on stage tonight still features original members Bob Dalton (Drums/Vocals) and John Beck (Keyboards/Vocals) - and the fans have swarmed to Bilston to offer their support.
First up though it's local lads The Lines, a much-touted 'next big thing' on the indie scene - and based on the evidence tonight there's nothing to stop these guys going all the way. They've got the looks, the hair and - even more importantly - the talent and the songs.
Winning over such a partisan crowd is never an easy thing, even in your own town - and it could be argued that The Lines' brand of groove-based indie-rock isn't the perfect support fit for a crowd that has been air-drumming along to Rush while waiting for the bands to start - but The Lines' infectious rhythms and catchy choruses instantly capture the crowd's attention. With mature songs like 'Domino Effect' in their repertoire (available now as a single on iTunes- and already an indie Top Ten track), 'Loudmouth' and the gently glowing and building 'Slow It Up' they're already a totally capable live outfit.
At times they remind me musically of The Music, but they definitely have an overall sound of their own. Alex is a captivating front man, Titley's bass lines are melodic yet driving, combining well with Paddy's energetic drums, and guitarist Dean pulls out his e-Bow from time to time which is a sure fire winner for me! With many celebrity endorsements I'd say if they can capture the energy and rawness on stage tonight in an album then the sky's the limit.
But as well as The Lines go down tonight, there's no denying that the vast majority of the audience is here tonight for one reason only - to witness It Bites play their seminal second album 'Once Around The World' in its entirety, start to finish. But that's held back for Act 2, first of all - all four dress head to toe in white - they delight the audience with a selection of tracks from their other albums.
The likes of 'All in Red' get the crowd bouncing and singing along at the top of their lungs - no warm up required, instant party atmosphere! 'Still Too Young to Remember' has always been a great track but it's just got better with time. Incredibly, despite these tracks intrinsic dependence on him, all thoughts of Francis Dunnery have been banished - new front man John Mitchell (a man well known to fans of Prog-supergroup Kino) more than adequately fills his shoes, reeling off the complex guitar licks and powerful vocals with what looks like no effort at all. He's at ease with the crowd - who have obviously already embraced his entry in the band - and is undeniably a great new leader for band.
Two tracks from the new album 'The Tall Ships' - the title track and 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' round off this portion of the show - the fans singing along just as energetically as to the older material - then the band leave the stage for a short break. When they return, after a brief stint of crowd-baiting by Mitchell ("what is it we're here to do again?") they begin the Once Around The World portion of the night and launch into 'Midnight' - which sounds twice as powerful as on the album. On record I always felt that the keyboards were mixed too high in relation to the guitars but live the full raw power of the riffs is let loose.
And that raw power only increases with 'Kiss Like Judas' (one of my personal favourites), with its clever interweaving keyboard/guitar riff. Lee Pomeroy's bass bounces along during the verses in time with the bouncing audience - one of those moments when all is well with the world! "Dog's Bollocks!" shouts one particularly happy member of the audience after each song, "sorry, we don't know that one" replies Mitchell. Played live like this reminds me just what a great album 'Once Around the World' is, each track is met with uniform acclaim from the crowd and what's most affecting is the obvious enjoyment of the band - smiles plastered wide across their faces (especially the two 'new boys'). Title track 'Once Around the World' is held back for the encore - and what a track to encore with! Epic, evolving and emotive.
Everyone leaves happy - very happy - and I'm left to ponder how Francis Dunnery's version of the band will compare when they perform on the same stage in about five weeks time.
For Midlands Rocks
Check out Paul's gig photos here