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The Underworld, Camden, London, England

February 17th, 2017

SOTO ended the UK leg of their 2017 European tour in London at The Underworld in Camden. Talented frontman Jeff Scott Soto, formerly of Talisman, brought his band to Europe to promote their second full-length studio album Divak. Touring with SOTO as their main support were Swiss rock band Vanadine, while Wigan-based rockers Bigfoot also accompanied them in the UK.

The evening kicked off with Vanadine, who are relatively unknown in the UK. However, it would be unfair of me to pass judgement on the band as due to transport issues it meant that I unfortunately missed the first half of their set. The four tracks that I did witness, including the cheekily named love song ‘Fuck U’, saw the band deliver a pretty riff heavy brand of modern rock to a fairly empty venue at this point.

Backed by the rhythm section of bassist Tom Balmer and drummer Andy Eugster, along with new guitarist Remo Möckli, frontman Mitch M. Michel bounced around the stage with gusto and showed no lack of enthusiasm. And from what I did see, Vanadine are certainly worth further investigation.

The swift change of acts went smoothly and before I knew it I was being entertained by the fantastic tones of Bigfoot. The band started as they meant to go on with frontman Anthony Ellis bellowing out the first track ‘Stone Soldiers’ with a slight bluesy undertone. Making use of a small stage to its capacity with energy and enthusiasm, Bigfoot grabbed the attention of the audience instantly.

This young band certainly have the look and stage presence, with twin guitarists Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh complimenting each other with their flawless solos, especially on the semi-ballad ‘Come Down My Way’. Bigfoot definitely have it all, reminding me of a typical 80s heavy rock band but with a modern stance.

With two independently released EPs to their name – Bigfoot (2015) and Stone Soldiers (2016) – these likeable lads from the Northwest of England have recently been signed to Frontiers Music and are looking to release their debut full-length in the summer. Well, if it includes songs like the melodical upbeat ‘Run’, the solid heavy anthem ‘Bitch Killer’ – the track that stood out the most for me – the catchy, playful ‘Blame It On The Dog’, and the punchy ‘Freakshow’ (not to be confused with the SOTO track of the same name) then it looks to be an album to look out for.

Bigfoot had captivated my attention within the first few chords and entertained the crowd from start to finish of a well thought out and professional set. The Underworld certainly had a variety of age groups in attendance and this band cut through appealing to the whole audience.

Bigfoot, whose line-up is completed by Matt Avery (bass) and Tom Aspinall (drums), are a solid live band, creating an instant rapport between themselves and the audience that held through to set closer ‘The Other Side Of Paradise’. Would I go and see them again? Yes, no question! Am I awaiting their debut album with anticipation? Most definitely! I only hope that their energy and clear enjoyment can be captured in the studio.

We didn’t have to wait long until the main attraction, and SOTO made their entrance with a triple barrage of songs from latest album Divak; opening with ‘FreakShow’ and quickly followed by ‘Time’ and ‘Weight Of The World’. All are heavy tracks that deviate from Jeff Scott Soto’s more familiar melodic rock style.

Unfortunately, throughout the gig and especially at the beginning, Jeff Scott Soto was having sound problems, and in places the frontman’s vocals were getting a little lost in the mix amongst the crunch of Jorge Salan’s mesmerizing fretwork. Thankfully, this didn’t dampen the overall experience of what turned into a great evening.

Soto did warn the audience that the band would be playing a lot of their newer material from Divak. However, they did throw in a couple of songs from 2015 debut album Inside The Vertigo, with ‘Final Say’ and ‘The Fall’ finding a place alongside ‘Cyber Masquerade’ and ‘Unblame’.

Jeff Scott Soto is certainly a talented frontman and created a lot of banter with the rest of the band, including the now familiar trend of singing the odd line from songs such as The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ in between tracks. This is overdone a little too much for me, although to be fair Jeff does engage the audience and this worked on the night because of the intimacy of the venue.

There was an emotional moment when Jeff Scott Soto dedicated the song ‘When I’m Older’ – another track from SOTO’s debut – to his late brother Joey, who sadly passed away in January. This was followed with a cover of the Michael Jackson song ‘Give It To Me’, demonstrating the versatility of the vocalist’s range.

Jeff did explain to the audience that SOTO was very much a band project rather than another solo venture, but this did not stop the vocalist dipping into his past material. First, we were treated to a mash-up of ‘Colour My XTC’ (from Talisman’s 1994 album Humanimal) and ‘21st Century’ (taken from the singer’s 2008 solo outing Beautiful Mess). Then there was ‘Livin’ The Life’, a song Jeff Scott Soto performed for the fictional band Steel Dragon on the soundtrack of the 2001 Rock Star movie. With more Talisman material being performed later in the set in the shape of ‘Tears In The Sky’ and crowd favourite ‘I’ll Be Waiting’.

David Z displayed his incredible skills on the bass and lighthearted Michael Jackson dance impression to ‘Billie Jean’, before Jeff went off stage for a change of shirt, leaving BJ (rhythm guitar), Edu Cominato (drums), David Z and Jorge Salan to show us their talents on the pacey instrumental ‘Risk’.

Jeff Scott Soto returned to complete a medley of ‘I Am A Viking / I’ll See The Light Tonight’; another blast from the past from his time with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force during the mid-80s.

The gig came to an end with a gathering of all three bands on stage for a finale of Steel Dragon’s ‘Stand Up’, before the SOTO guys downed instruments for a brief acapella rendition of Steel Panther’s ‘Community Property’.

All in all, it was a good intimate gig, albeit with a few technical problems. I’m not sure SOTO will be in a hurry to come back to the UK, but I personally hope they do. It seems this is the most serious Jeff Scott Soto has been about a band since Talisman, and they are all putting their energy and hard work into making this a great outfit. The tracks on the latest album Divak are heavier and more modern in this competitive genre, and with the skills and experience of this talented combo I think they will be around for a good while yet.

Deborah Roberts