W.A.S.P. @ O2 Academy, Bristol – 23 March 2023

The legendary Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P. are back in the UK for a run of frustratingly delayed 40th anniversary tour dates, and tonight Bristol Academy is more than ready for them.

This is another tour which has been a long time coming, due in part to the fucking pandemic. It pains me to still be mentioning it, but I do so because it’s nights like this that continue to help erase the memory. Just after 6pm, the street outside the Academy is swarming, and I’m squeezed into the Hatchet Inn. The place is buzzing with anticipation, virtually every t-shirt is W.A.S.P. emblazoned, and the night feels like it’s bigger than it should be. Or, perhaps I’ve just underestimated what’s on offer.

There have been suggestions regarding its significance on this tour, but while ‘The End’ served as the finale for many of The Doors’ shows, it marks the introduction to W.A.S.P.  They start with a medley of ‘On Your Knees’, ‘The Flame’, ‘The Torture Never Stops’ and ‘Inside the Electric Circus’. Blackie is looking trim, and a sight to behold stood behind his OTT mic stand Elvis. While I can’t help but listen out for those much talked about vocal supplements, his voice sounds really good. In fact the overall sound of these classics is as perfect as any fan could wish for.

The stage is set like a dark carnival or circus – a theme which has forever been part of Blackie’s make-up. The definitive ‘L.O.V.E. Machine’ and ‘Wild Child’ begin video screen displays of archive band footage from the glorious 80’s, helping to cement this celebration of the past. Blackie pauses for breath to talk about the disappointment of cancelled tours, but how his band always fulfil. He continues with a sincerely heartfelt: “Thank you, for your support, all of these years!”

Blackie reminds us that in addition to 40 years of the band, it’s also the 30th anniversary of ‘The Crimson Idol’ album, and with that the pace of the show changes. I’m very much an old-school W.A.S.P. fan, and with the majority of tonight’s relatively short set taken from the first three albums, I’m kept perfectly happy. However, ‘The Idol’ and ‘The Great Misconceptions of Me’ really don’t hit the same spot. They turn out to be a long-winded fifteen minutes or so, and the live extravaganza falls on its arse here. Give me ‘Hellion’ and ‘School Daze’ in their place any day!

Things do pick up with ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ and the debauched funster of my youth, ‘Blind In Texas’. Along with footage of the PMRC and Blackie’s battle with censorship, at long last audiences are getting to hear ‘Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)’ live again. After years of refusing to play the track because of his “religious faith”, the ringmaster lets the crowd sing that line back at him. At least he’s playing it, and there’s no doubt its inclusion fuels the nod back to 80’s metal entertainment – and let’s be honest, what really set the ball rolling for W.A.S.P. 

The band tear through the penultimate song of the evening, a cover of  ‘The Real Me’ by The Who, from the fourth album ‘The Headless Children’. The show is then wrapped with ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’, the first single from the 1984 self-titled, debut album – when W.A.S.P. really were somebody. Every member of the band, from beginning to present day is given screen time, with thanks being attributed to the supporting team and crew over the years. It’s a nice touch, which is felt and appreciated by all.

W.A.S.P. is of course all about Blackie Lawless, but with that he has surrounded himself with a fine set of musicians in Mike Duda on bass, Doug Blair lead guitar and drummer Aquiles Priester. On reflection, I probably did underestimate exactly how much W.A.S.P. still mean to the most loyal fans, and for those who waited so long for this show to happen, I think it’s fair to say it was well worth it.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston