Manchester has little in common with California. Beasley Street’s dirty days seem a far cry from Hollywood Boulevard, where the sun never stops shining. But in the dark basement of the Ruby Lounge, Fu Manchu took to the stage and battered Manchester with a psych-laden sandstorm straight from the desert plains of Southern California.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of The Action Is Go, and to celebrate Fu Manchu are playing the album in its entirety across Europe. The band brought California to the crowd and kicked acid dust in their faces with each successive riff of their acclaimed 1997 album. From the serrated edges of ‘Evil Eye’ to the crunching density of ‘Nothing Done’, the album manages to balance massive weight with deft control and is awash with the sort of dirt-infused psychedelic grooves able to maintain any audience’s attention.
Guitarists Bob Balch and Scott Hill tore into the first track, ‘Evil Eye’, sending the crowd into a frenzy that never let up. Through ‘Urethane’ and ‘The Action Is Go’ the band really started to hit their rhythm, and come ‘Burning Road’ the audience were in full voice, hurling words back at frontman Scott Hill, shouting along to the infectious chorus. Hill’s psychotic stage presence anchored the whole show and his superb vocals sounded as good as they did on record in 1997, perfect for these hot stoner anthems.
Though the guitars sweep and duel with all the intensity of a sword fight, ‘The Action Is Go’ often has bass stomp over everything in its path. The filthy wah-bass introduction to ‘Guardrail’ was a live highlight, almost puncturing the speaker cones.
Following the bruising low frequencies of ‘Anodizer’, the casual funk of ‘Trackside Hoax’ and high energy of ‘Unknown World’, the psychedelic ‘Laserblast!’ sounded like it could’ve been beamed from another planet. Its slow intro eventually developing into a showcase of the band at maximum groove.
After ‘Hogwash’ the crowd were treated to another prime cut of bass courtesy of bassist Brad Davis and the immense ‘Grendel, Snowman’. ‘Strolling Astronomer’ was followed by the longest track on the record, the winding space-travel epic, ‘Saturn III’, allowing lead guitarist Bob Balch to coax incredible sounds from his axe. The punchy ‘Nothing Done’ closed the show and Fu Manchu left the stage to rapturous applause.
The exuberant performance of ‘The Action Is Go’ could only be followed in one way, with further classics from the Fu Manchu archive. The band reemerged on stage and drummer Scott Reeder launched into Led Zeppelin’s Rock ‘n’ Roll before the band halted and Scott Hill asked “What do you want to hear, Mongoose? Alright, this song’s called Hell on Wheels.” As luck would have it, the crowd got both. The driving anthem ‘Hell on Wheels’ and perhaps the band’s most recognised track, ‘Mongoose’.
Despite the sheer weight of Fu Manchu and The Action Is Go on record, the band manage to coax even more from their sound thanks to the monstrous fuzz tones of Balch and Hill. The show was a library of classic riffs that ensured every member of the audience left positively soaked in stoner rock, skater metal vibes, and got to take a little slice of Californian sunshine with them.
Written by Sean McGeady