Review: Ugly Kid Joe – Limelight, Belfast
When Ugly Kid Joe first released Americas Least Wanted album in September 1992, a debut album from a relatively unknown band, it was somewhat of a commercial success with a handful of Top 40 hits. Following their split in 1997 they reformed in 2010 and have being going strong since. 26 years on from their debuts release the band are touring celebrating it’s 25th (and now 26th) birthday so I was keen to go along and see if it had stood the test of time. Having only been 11 years old at the time of its release I remember so many of the songs as they were on heavy rotation from my big brother and being a bratty child I loved the obnoxiousness of hits like ‘Everything About You’ and ‘Neighbour’. The Limelight 1 is heavy on men, light on women and light on hair, and pretty well filled for a Tuesday night rock gig.
From the intro of the distorted guitars and feedback, they kick off with album opener ‘Neighbour’, an ode to being a pain in the arse to live beside, and with it’s heavy rhythm led funk and guitar riffs aplenty, it whets our collective appetite for more. Although Ugly Kid Joe are playing the album in it’s entirety they are not playing in the original running order, so this adds to the anticipation of what we are going to hear next.
‘Madman’ shows off Whitfield Cranes vocal abilities which have withstood the ravages of time and touring the album for over a year. The band have always been known as rock, but their songs are a complex mix of straight rock, metal and funk, and that’s what makes them stand out. Cranes vocals can be sneering in one moment, and powerful the next, with a gritty rasp similar to Bon Scott at times.
‘Jesus Rode A Harley’ is a surprise addition to the set from their sophomore album Menace To Sobriety and it is heavy with Cordell Crockett’s bassline thumping throughout the Limelight, and Dave Fortman and Klaus Eichstadt waging a duel with their guitars. Blowing a kiss to the crowd, Crane leads into play ‘C.U.S.T’ a bass heavy number with a similar sound to bands like Primus and very early Faith No More.
‘Panhandlin’ Prince’ inspires a silent air guitar orchestra in the venue with everyone getting into the moment and appreciating the heavy riffs and guitar solos. It’s a sobering thought though to hear Crane sing about a homeless man living on the streets with the lines ‘ Yo, Mr. Trump, can I ask you a question, You got some spare change for me sucker? ‘Cause I’m down and out and there ain’t no doubt That I am here to stay’ and now Trump is President of the United States. 25 years ago you wouldn’t have bet on that coming true. Strange days indeed.
On ‘Come Tomorrow’ UKJ slow things down but lose none of the tightness they have as a five piece which is no mean feat. They have an easiness on stage with one another and the smiles are wide and the banter between them that of good friends. Crane keeps wandering off stage during solos content to let the guitars do the talking and taking a welcome moment to grab a beer and survey the crowd. Throughout the show the frontman has us eating out of the palm of his hand, getting us to clap along stadium style, or join in with songs. He also does a lot of spitting, I feel for the security guys in front of the stage, but hey, rock’n’roll man!! \w/
After ‘Devils Paradise ‘ he asks for recommendations of where to hang out and drink beer after the show and the place is a chorus of shouts and pleas for them to hangout with their fans. Crane has an exchange with a fan named Clark who last saw them in 1995 when he was 10 supporting Bon Jovi and Van Halen. Impressed, he dedicates the next song to him and the whole venue is soon singing along to ‘Cats In The Cradle’. (I hope if they drink with some locals after the show that they explain to them the main reason most people know that song in NI; from the hauntingly horrific anti-terrorism adverts in the 1990s, although it was the Harry Chapin version, as that’s all I can think of when I hear that song)
It’s the closest that UKJ get to a ballad, and Crane softens his vocals in keeping with this. At the end of the song he’s hanging the mic around his neck and leaning over the barrier at the front of the stage and conducts us all in singing the chorus to the end. Finishing with a hug to Clark he returns on stage again for ‘I’m Alright’ and ‘Milkmans Son’. Klaus Eichstadt takes over on lead vocals for ‘Mr. Recordman’ and Crane informs us that he is nervous and shy so whatever he plays to warm up we should cheer on. We duly oblige even though he plays the first bars of ‘I Want It That Way’ by Backstreet Boys, everyone throwing off their rock bravado and joining in.
It’s a surreal moment matched only by Crane singing Take That ‘Back For Good’ later in the set. Proof that these rockers don’t take themselves too seriously. ‘Busy Bee’ takes the tempo down a notch again, but we lose none of the enthusiasm for singing along, and Dave Fortman’s guitar solo is impeccable. ‘God Damn Devil’ is pure metal, sounding classic, not dated, and inspires a lot of folks in the crowd to throw up the rock salute of devil horns. It also inspires two guys beside me on the periphery of the stage to style out a fall that one has had when slipping on his own beer he spilled, and attempt a bit of breakdancing. Kudos guys, total save.
Crane has been commanding all night, admonishing individuals for not joining in and bantering with the audience. This continues when he tells us – we can have one more song as an encore or two, wholly dependent on how loud we are. And are Belfast crowds ever not loud? As if! Without leaving the stage for the whole ‘oooh will they come back on’ pantomime, they launch into ‘Funky Fresh Country Club’ from the 1991 E.P ‘As Ugly As They Wanna Be’ before ending the set on their best known hit ‘Everything About You’, pausing before the final note to call out a woman on her mobile phone at the back of the venue, dedicating the song to her and playfully teasing ‘how many likes did you get?!’. And with the final note Ugly Kid Joe end their set.
Still as obnoxious, still as rock, still as tight as ever, they are possibly one of the most underrated rock bands from the early 90s and are worth seeing not just for a nostalgia trip.