Kris Barras Band // Florence Black // Aniimalia // Live Review // The Marble Factory // Bristol
The Marble Factory is an interesting place, a now converted industrial unit in Bristol’s Saint Phillip’s district. It sports many of the charms that make the UK touring circuit so compelling; it’s cold enough inside to make you sure your bollocks are going to fall off and welcomes a visit to the toilet with the cubicle-scribbled message, ‘If you’re shitting, I hope it goes well’. Outstanding.
Ahead of his first headline tour since 2019, Kris Barras made an appeal online to source 2022’s opening acts; an admirable gesture that should be more commonplace in today’s landscape.
Tonight’s offering is Bristol’s own Aniimalia; an alt-rock four piece blending strong riffs and a pop sensibility that draws comparison to Halestorm and Paramore. Singer, Kira Beckett is eminently watchable and channels the spirit of Hayley Williams, with a pure tone, great technique and a refusal to stay in one place for more than half a second. Her boundless energy and commitment to her performance occasionally led to her vocal slipping out, but it’s hard to fault as fronting a band is a fine art developed over many years. It’s a pleasure to see the band providing Beckett with proper backup, contributing skill and flair in equal measure. Aniimalia are armed with the ingredients that make grassroots bands successful: they’re youthfully exuberant, visibly in love with what they’re doing and as tight as a gnat’s arse – with room to continue growing, it’s worth keeping them on your radar going forward.
Welsh three-piece Florence Black are next to take the stage, draped head to toe in attire straight from the darkest corner of the Motörhead fashion catalogue. The mood palpably lifts as frontman Tristan Thomas takes a testosterone-fuelled stride to the mic. The band comes out of the gate white-hot, charging headlong into ‘Zulu’ from 2021’s ‘Weight Of The World’, much to the delight of a collection of devoted fans huddled at the front. They breeze by some early technical problems without missing a beat, with Thomas only briefly looking back to cast a withering look at the offending cable as it’s removed from the stage. Fair enough; as anyone who’s been brought up correctly will tell you, jack leads are bastards. Thomas’ vocal cuts through the room like nails in a blender as they thunder through their set, in a furious blur of screaming guitar and booming drums. All three are masters of their instruments, but then they would be. Those familiar with the band’s native Merthyr Tydfil will know their main exports are going for pints (the only time you’ll ever genuinely fear for your life in a Weatherspoon’s) and getting on a first name basis with every note on your fretboard. It’s only later on that Jordan Evans (bass) and Perry Davies (drums) join Thomas in impressive three-part harmony, begging the question of why they don’t do it more often, as it certainly adds something to their sound. Florence Black are a deeply impressive live act and continue the proud tradition of quality rock music in South Wales. If you like your hard rock, they’re a must see.
The stage is transformed in short order with a wall of enormous guitar cabs and a generous helping of drums, but something seems to be missing. One of the things that sets Kris Barras Band apart from their contemporaries is the Hammond C3 organ barking over the guitars – and yet there’s a noticeable lack of one on stage. Betrayal!
The lights fall, drawing excitable cheers from a now fuller room. The band make their way out one by one on a wave of pre-recorded drum strikes and blinding white lights, surely a nod to the now retired Barras’ UFC Career. An almighty roar fills the air as Barras himself joins his bandmates on stage and immediately kicks into a shrieking solo, projecting the kind of easy charisma and confidence that likely comes from a decade of people trying to rip your arms off in an octagon. Around the one minute mark it becomes clear that the grumbles of a certain keyboard playing music writer
(we won’t mention names) are completely irrelevant, because, and let’s get this out of the way early; they are fucking fantastic.
Kelpie Mckenzie (bass) and Billy Hammett (drums) make up a formidable rhythm section, the former grinding out filthy, bone-shaking bottom end and the latter thrashing his kit so thoroughly you’d swear it owed him money. Barras and guitarist Josiah J. Manning are equal parts friend and foe, combining their powers on brawny riffs then fighting like hyenas for the lead. It’s a well balanced performance, with Barras and Manning indulging the crowd by treating them to stripped back versions of a couple of songs from the band’s back catalogue. Barras gels everything together with frank and witty conversation between songs, which included a touching tribute to his late father.
The most striking part of a majestic performance though, by some considerable distance, is Barras’ guitar playing. There have been many iconic guitarists over the years and it’s no exaggeration that Kris Barras could one day be counted among them. He has the kind of speed, tone and feel that demands arenas; it wouldn’t be far fetched to suggest that you’ll be paying a lot more to see him in the not too distant future, so put your hand in your pocket now while you can still afford it!
Kris Barras Band together with main support Florence Black can be found touring nationwide until 26th March 2022. The new album, ‘Death Valley Paradise’ is out now on all major platforms.