Hard rock band Black Spiders have been around for a while. Having formed in 2008, they delivered a brace of well received albums and landed multiple support slots with the likes of Airbourne, Black Stone Cherry and The Wildhearts before disbanding in 2017. Then, three years later, they came back, this time with Planet Rock DJ Wyatt Wendels on the drum throne. A self-titled album came in 2021 and now, Black Spiders are on the road promoting their latest album release Can’t Die, Won’t Die.
I’ve seen the band twice before, albeit in abridged form at a couple of festivals – where, as a photographer you barely get a sense of what a performance is about before you inevitably have to be somewhere else. At Bloodstock, where the metal is so extreme it practically melts your face off, the more conventional sound of Black Spiders felt like an afternoon at a vicar’s tea party. At Steelhouse, where everything is a little more reserved, Black Spiders presented as the proper hard rock band they are. One thing was self-evident at both performances; they are a brilliant live outfit and a hell of a lot of fun.
So, when the opportunity to see them play a full set on a headline tour on entirely their own terms came along, I jumped at it and accordingly I find myself at the third of a ten-run set of dates. The venue is The Lens Studio, the smaller of the two performance spaces at Portsmouth’s Guildhall.
The Guildhall is a slightly odd place. Constructed in 1890, the building was a fabulous example of Neoclassical style; though sadly in 1941, the Luftwaffe kindly dropped a bomb smack bang into the middle of it. Fortunately, the façade remained largely intact, though everything else was gutted and rebuilt in the 1950s. Accordingly, once you’ve navigated its beautiful exterior, you could be in any brutalist municipal theatre anywhere in the country. The internals make Basingstoke look attractive.
The wall above the door to The Lens Studio has various performance genres appended to it. ‘Classical’, ‘Drama’, ‘Comedy’, ‘Dance’, ‘Jazz’, ‘Blues’ etc. Someone has hastily stuck a bit of gaffer up and written ‘Rock’ on it with a Sharpie. I love that.
All female rock quartet The Hot Damn! are accompanying Black Spiders on this tour but there is a second support tonight in the form of local band Electric Milk. I arrive in time to catch the very end of their set. They’ve had to cut it short. “Our singer left the band today”, reports bassist and hastily organised vocalist Jack Guy. Ouch. You have to feel for them and I wish I’d got here earlier to be an additional body lending support. That said, there’s a very respectable number of people here already and the crowd empathise. “Yeah, fuck that guy!” retorts Jack.
The band have a seven-night headline tour themselves commencing 28th September, though whether that’s as the four piece they seemingly are or the five piece they once were remains unclear.
There’s a short break before The Hot Damn! take the stage. Setlists are posted on the floor and a couple of guys at the front express interest in taking them home. “They’re reserved for the people who dance the most”, says drummer Josie O’Toole as she finishes setting up her kit. When the band start, O’Toole quickly becomes an integral part of the show; her arms sprouting from a central mop of flailing hair.
The band deliver music at the poppy end of the rock spectrum and it’s all dispatched with a great deal of fun and energy. Dance Around and Live Laugh Love are a couple of stand-out tunes and I particularly like a repurposed rendition of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz as an encouragement to the audience to hit the merch stand before Back Spiders come out.
They finish with I Didn’t Like You Anyway; “A song about arseholes”. In keeping with what one might expect from a song about arseholes, the audience are encouraged to offer up a middle finger to the air whilst it plays out. It’s a manoeuvre we’ll be seeing later. Frequently.
Black Spiders come out about 9.30 and set to work. I’m immediately struck by what hit me the first time I saw them; they have a very strong work ethic and the energy levels are off the charts. This manifests itself most obviously in the form of bass player Adam Irwin. Each member of the band has been allocated a spirit animal name. Irwin is ‘The Fox’, I suspect because of his auburn hair, which used to be more of a mane than it is now. If I were to offer him a spirt animal name of my own it would be ‘The Cranefly’.
He has extraordinarily long limbs that articulate in directions that don’t appear to be entirely natural and he spends virtually the entire performance spinning and bouncing around the stage as if attempting to find an elusive open window. His arms are so long that in order for his bass to reach the end of them it has to be slung around his knees. He may not appear particularly coordinated, but he’s obviously having a ball and it’s really good fun to watch.
And it’s not just The Fox giving is 10/10. Frontman Pete ‘Spider’ Spiby bangs out the words, crunches power chords on his Les Paul and occasionally launches himself from his 4×12.
The two lead guitarists, D-Ron ‘Bobcat’ Moulds stage right and James ‘The Roadrunner’ Jevans stage left frequently swap sides and throw shapes for fun – they are a photographer’s delight.
Meanwhile at the back, Wendels, or ‘The Octopus’ to give him his spiritual moniker, maintains an impressive beat. He’s well named, for it seems hard to see how he keeps up the drumming with just the regulation two arms at his disposal.
The music is hard and heavy and delivered in a relentless wall of noise, but you’d expect that from a band with three guitarists. It might be relentless, but Black Spiders still manage to serve up variety in the setlist. At times, there’s an Aerosmith bent – songs such as Hot Wheels and Just Like A Woman have huge anthemic choruses. High speed riff fests like Stabbed In The Back and A Rat Is A Rat channel the inner Motörhead, whilst the slow and sludgy Wizard Shall Not Kill Wizard is pure Sabbath in their prime.
In Stay Down, the band pause to encourage more middle fingers in the air accompanied by chants of ‘Fuck You Black Spiders’. It’s a ritual played out at every Black Spiders show and this display of comedic self-deprecation takes me back. The last heavy rock band I saw with a sense of humour and a desire to be told by the fanbase to go fuck themselves was Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts and that was close to 40 years ago. We used to go to their residency at the old Marquee on Wardour Street. I came out of those gigs covered in bruises and with aching internal organs. I’m pleased to report that whilst I loved the feeling of nostalgia and really enjoyed Black Spiders doing their stuff, I escaped The Lens Studio with all body parts intact.
The Can’t Die, Won’t Die tour continues until 25th September and I thoroughly recommend checking it out. Details of venues and ticket availability can be found on the Black Spiders website.