Kris Barras Band
Refreshments bought and bladders emptied, it’s time for the main event. The room starts filling up even more than before and mostly with people wearing Kris Barras t-shirts. Still stuck towards the back, it’s impossible to get any closer, as the room is packed and the balcony seating is sold out.
The backdrop is lit up with a huge logo and the stage manager is making his final checks. From out of the darkness, figures can be seen making their way to the stage and the hustle and bustle of the crowd dies down before sounds of cheers and whistles fills the room.
Billy Hammett gets comfortable behind the drum kit, new boy Frazer Kerslake straps into his bass and Josiah J. Manning makes his final adjustments to his Fender Telecaster as the dramatic industrial sounding intro excites the crowd. The cheers and whistles of elation fill the room as the band’s eponymous frontman, Mr Kris Barras walks out onto the stage wearing a cut off Skindred top showing his extensive ink, and wastes no time in dropping the F bomb from the outset, “How we fucking doing?! … It’s great to be back home … Exeter! … make some fucking noise!”
The place erupts and Kris gets the audience clapping along as his guitar tech brings out his beautiful trademark blue Seth Baccus guitar. He straps it on as the band flies into some fantastic high energy rock riffage which has everyone’s attention before it transitions into opening track Hail Mary. Almost as if in some sort of cathedral, everyone in the room sings along to the opening chorus.
As the band and pretty much most of the audience all strut and march to the beat and sing along, Kris exclaims that he already knows from the opening track that “This is gonna be a good one tonight!”
The band waste no time in cracking on with the next song, the first single to be released from latest album Death Valley Paradise, Dead Horses. As the opening riff engulfs the room, the crowd are cheering with delight. I would have left this banger for later in the set but actually, it’s perfectly placed to keep up the pace and has everyone dancing around, waving their hands in the air and singing along to the chorus.
As the lights fade to black a single spotlight is on the band’s new bass player Frazer Kerslake as he plays an atmospheric bass solo on his beautiful six-string bass. Fraser joined the band after Kelpie McKenize decided to leave the band to go traveling ahead of the band’s biggest tour to date. Personally, I think the band is stronger for it. Fraser is a phenomenal bassist and the chemistry in the band is beautiful to see.
As Kris comes in with the unmistakable riff to Out of Control, soon Josiah and Frazer join the pack and the track erupts into a heavy, headbanging section and once again the audience are there for the ride. As quickly as it starts, the first verse slows things down until the chorus. The highlight of this track for me is the bridge, when all three guitarists join together for some triple guitarmonies.
After all that excitement, Kris takes a little breather as he talks to the audience and explains how their sound has evolved from a bluesy, southern, country rock sound to be much more heavy. Conscious of how certain older tracks might not fit in the set list amongst such rockier songs, the band have rejigged one of their old favorites and given it a heavier feel to bring it right up to date. Kris urges the crowd to get involved and starts everyone clapping along “Exeter … this is a homecoming show, so I want you to represent us and make a lot of noise on this one! ‘Cause this is gonna go off … I want you to get your hands in the air come on! 1, 2, 3, JUMP!”
As the beat kicks in, the familiar Heart On Your Sleeve takes on a completely new life whilst retaining its bluesy southern vibe. But this reimagining is heavier and has a dancey drum beat thrown in which has the band and everyone in the room jumping! The audience joins in on the chorus as the lights illuminate the room. Standing on top of one of the monitors, Kris takes centre stage for an amazing guitar solo which is bordering on something you would expect from Eddie Van Halen.
At this point, I check in on Anna who has still not returned from the interval. She can’t get back in because the room is so rammed full of people, so she has been watching at the door. She informs me she is fine and loving it so far.
Kris slows it down with the next track Wake Me When It’s Over and explains how it was written during lockdown and refined in the studio. It sums up his whole experience during lockdown, when all he wanted to do is get out and play to an audience. The track starts off slow and builds into a monster anthem, culminating in an astonishing guitar solo from Josiah J. Manning who, in my humble opinion, is one of the best guitarists in this country. And just when you think the solo was the standout moment of this song, Kris finishes on an astonishing vocal at the end as the instruments fade and all you can hear his his voice to finish the song. You can hear people all around saying “wow!” as the hairs on your neck stand up. I hope Kris wouldn’t mind me saying that he has never professed to be the greatest singer in the world, but it is very clear to me that he has honed his sound and vocally he is the best I have ever heard him.
As the lights go down and the band regroup, blue strobe lights break the darkness and the sound of police sirens fade in as Kris once again talks to the audience. Talking about the next track, Hostage being the most played song on Planet Rock throughout June, he is met with a lacklustre cheer. “Fuck me! … tough crowd!” he quips as we all cheer loudly to make up for it.
Following Hostage the band move into Chaos and ironically during this song, I get a message from Anna who is still outside. “There’s been a punch up out here!” As it turns out, a rather inebriated gentleman was removed from the gig and then decided to take a swing at the bouncer outside in the foyer. With his vision not being great from all the booze, he missed completely, spun himself around and crashed into the merch desk; he was promptly ejected. So while there was Chaos on stage, there was also chaos outside too. But this did provide a route for Anna to get back in to join us in the audience, as Kris encourages the crowd to sing along line by line to Devil You Know. Kris comes off the stage and makes his way through the crowd as Billy Hammett pounds away on the kick pedal to this upbeat track with drum and bass vibes and Hendrix style guitar licks from Josiah. Cameras are out as Kris gets up close and personal with everyone in the audience before climbing back on stage.
After all the excitement, the lights go down and Josiah plays a slow toned down melody as Kris talks about his Father who sadly died of cancer and explains how he taught him to play guitar but never got to see his son make it doing the thing he loves most. Watching Over Me is a beautiful tribute to his Dad. It’s a beautiful song and you can feel the emotion emanating from his guitar. You can hear every single note is perfect and this showcases his phenomenal talent. He is playing it to his Dad who is watching over his son on that stage, and it really is a ‘hope you’re proud of me Dad’ moment as lights from everyone’s phones illuminate the room in tribute to the ones they have lost.
Bringing the mood back up, Kris exclaims that it’s time to show off the amazing band he has playing with him as they launch into a medley of covers kicking off with Rock and Roll by the legendary Led Zeppelin. Everyone dancing and singing and this is the perfect pick me up. The band are having a great time and Frazer and Josiah mess around a bit as they use the full space of the stage, playing back to back and nudging each other. The band then take turns on trying to out-do each other with little licks and fills on their instruments before launching into snippets of Carry On My Wayward Son (Kansas) and Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F [Beverly Hills Cop theme].
Who Needs Enemies is next on the set list before the final song of the night and the one everyone has been waiting for, My Parade. Most of the audience are singing along to this anthem but just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention, Kris decides to part the room like Moses parting the Red Sea and he jumps off the stage and walks down the middle, splitting us into two sides. Like two rival gangs facing off, we go head to head in who can sing the loudest with one half “This is my parade” and the other half (my side) “Don’t give a fuck what people say!” As we got the swear word, I think we just edged it, but Kris calls it a tie. Climbing back on the stage for the big finish and ending the set, the band walk off as the cries for ‘encore’ start in earnest.
Wasting no time, they are back and obviously end on probably the most well know Kris Barras song Ignite (Light it up) which ends the night perfectly.
This is not only the best I have seen the Kris Barras Band play live, but it’s shown them to be an arena quality band with a brilliant back catalogue of tracks. The sound quality was first class and everyone’s performance was perfect. Without doubt one of the best British rock bands we have today.
But what did Anna and Julie think?
Julie thought it was amazing and wants to bring her young daughter to see Kris Barras because she would have loved it. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t heard about this band on mainstream radio or TV because they were so good.
Anna bought the CD at the merch desk and has been playing it ever since in the car. She came into work the next morning singing “don’t give a fuck what people say”, which she couldn’t get out of her head.
So the moral of the story is, if you want to help get new music to more people, invite them to a gig with you. Both Anna and Julie will freely admit, they only came along for a night out and weren’t expecting to enjoy the music that much. Now they are buying merch and inviting others to future gigs. It just goes to show that rock is very much alive and kicking. All you have to do is expose people to its wonderful artists on the live scene. Why not invite your work colleagues for a night out at your next gig night. You might just be surprised.