I've seen Jeff Scott Soto in a couple of guises before. Once as the show stealing frontman of W.E.T. when they bossed the stage at the much missed Firefest and once as the most energetic, charismatic frontman Journey has ever had. Tonight in Edinburgh is different, he's here with his band to highlight his latest, and for his more melodically rock minded fans, controversially heavy outfit Soto. Although we were also to be treated to so much more. First up however were the Swiss outfit Vanadine, a band JSS has long been championing, and UK lads Bigfoot, who have in recent times begun creating a buzz almost as large as their shoe size. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid was there.
Although the 'official support' for this tour, Vanadine hit the stage first, a pretty much unknown name here in the UK given the chance to show their wares before a reasonably sized crowd. Sitting on the riffy end of heavy rock, there's a mix of good time vibes, thunderous guitars and the occasional tongue in cheek lyric about what this lot do. It's also clear that they're here to have fun, and to make sure everyone else does too. In truth, the language barrier between frontman Mitch M. Michel and the audience also creates a few unintentionally humorous moments, but in general it's a reasonably solid set of riff packed songs that make the desired first impression. "Liar" is a chunky slice of controlled anger, although it's the 'love song' "Fuck U" and it's infectious Ugly Kid Joe like bounce-about that proves the highlight. They didn't quite have folk scurrying to the merch desk to throw money at them, but Vanadine certainly made some new friends with a performance that suggests that with a little honing and stage presence, they could go far.
Wigan lads Bigfoot on the other hand seemed to already be well known faces to many, this young act packing the front half of the Bannerman's 'tunnel' (or oven, if you visit in the summer…) with ladies and gents already wearing the band's logo adorned t-shirts. And no wonder. This lot are the real deal. It's a long time since I've seen a young band who not only have all the right moves and the right look, but also the stage craft to immediately command the crowd and bring the whole room with them on the journey through their set. Most importantly, they have the songs to carry it off, an influence list as wide and varied as The Beatles, Iron Maiden, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jagged Edge and just about everything in between, at their disposal. What's also clear is just how much time they've put in to their show, a slick but not too slick, professionalism married to a keen sense of humour, making what this band do equally entertaining and likeable. The immensely tight little stop start sections an attention grabbing blast from the past that many bands of longer vintage could learn from.
The unforgettable "Blame It On The Dog", is not only an ode to the questionable smell the loveable pooch in your life may, or may not have created, but also a mighty sing along that nearly everyone in attendance took part in. Whereas "Bitch Killer" is a hefty metal anthem that's just as lethal as its name suggests. In Antony Ellis the band also have an eye-catching frontman, who vocally can be likened to a young Bruce Dickinson (air raid siren and all), but with a less theatric bite. Although his infectious stage moves do at times come from the Jack Black school (of rock). Head flicks, neck breaking side to sides and Ozzy-like microphone stand shakedowns the order of the day. Factor in a stunning twin guitar pairing in the shape of Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh and Bigfoot have everything needed to really hit the big time. Unbelievably, at the end of the night one of the band's team would tell me this was far from the best show Bigfoot have put on. Try telling that to the punters they had eating out of their hands from song one to the very last note and beyond. With a freshly inked deal with Frontiers Records under their belt and the ability to completely enthral an audience, Bigfoot are surely about to explode on to the scene. On this evidence they undoubtedly deserve it.
There's only one way to enter the stage area in Bannerman's and that's directly through the crowd. Hence with most of the band already on the stage, the assembled throng was asked to part down the middle to let the one, the only, Jeff Scott Soto through. Moses himself couldn't have done a better job of splitting the seas, as the man mountain strode through the room to huge acclaim. At over six feet in height and with hugely broad, solid shoulders, JSS is an imposing sight at the best of times, but crammed onto the small stage in this venue, he looked like some sort of dark glasses wearing goliath as the band slipped eagerly into gear. Hitting hard from the off – well after a few microphone problems had been sorted out (something that would set the tone for the night), "Freakshow" and "Wrath" took no prisoners and even with JSS admitting to an extremely late bedtime the night before, it was the heaviness of the guitars and the aggression in the vocals that knocked everyone sideways. Surrounding himself with some amazing talent, the show was never about Soto the man and always about Soto the band, guitarists Jorge Salan and BJ, drummer Edu Cominato and bassist David Z contributing on an equal footing, whether that be through stunning bass workouts, searing solos, intricate percussive power, or rock solid rhythm guitar work. Add in some amazing backing, and at times lead, vocals from BJ, Edu and Z, and as JSS is as great pains to point out, Soto is a solidified unit, not another solo venture. That also came across strongly in the chemistry onstage, the camaraderie and gentle mickey-taking throughout always raising some hearty laughs.
Amongst all the newer tracks, it was a joy to hear "21st Century" given a welcome airing, the song from the massively underrated and misunderstood Beautiful Mess album still a show stopper, although the more recent "Unblame" did likewise. Throughout all of these superbly performed anthems Jeff continued having mic problems, the in-house equipment phasing into and out of earshot. Although even then it was possible at times to hear the indomitable frontman over the PA!
Paying tribute to his past, a couple of classic Talisman tracks were given new life, "Tears In The Sky" and "I'll Be Waiting" rapturously received, before the band's recently released cover of Michael Jackson's "Give In To Me" was given a note perfect workout. And neither was it the only time MJ got a mention, David Z utilising every one of the six strings on his bass to do a solo instrumental version of "Billie Jean", covering all of the parts on his own and all while taking on Jackson's dance moves!
JSS's time with Yngwie Malmsteen also got a look in, "I Am A Viking/I'll See The Light Tonight" a thunderous triumph where Jorge took on the guitar maestro's renowned work and, if anything, raised it a notch or two. Before he and the band minus Soto himself (who instead of sneaking off stage (because you can't in Bannerman's) for a shot of whiskey and change of clothes rocked along, clearly impressed by what his bandmates were dishing out) ripped out a bespoke instrumental to a huge ovation.
With an excellent brand new cut, "Cyber Masquerade" matching the more established numbers, the slower heartfelt tribute to Jeff's late brother Joey, "When I'm Older" and the hard hitting "Final Say" all adding to a hugely varied set, it was left to the Steel Dragon showcase "Stand Up" and an a cappella take on Steel Panther's "Community Property" to close out the encore in utterly stunning style – well I say encore, but in reality, JSS simply made everyone close their eyes, scream for more and then reopen them so we could all pretend the band had left and re-entered the inaccessible stage!
Yes, there were technical issues throughout, yes, the always iffy sound mix in Bannerman's meant those near the front struggled to hear all the vocals (even when the mic was working!), while those at the back lost out on some of the guitars. Yes, JSS had to (jokingly) reprimand his bassist on numerous occasions for his 'humorous' asides and yes, the stage set up in this venue certainly has more than a few limitations. However Soto, the band, overcame each and every one of those stumbling blocks (actually Z's wise cracks were amongst the many highlights!), to give the sort of performance those in attendance will be raving about for months to come. It's no exaggeration to say that Soto are one of the most underrated bands in metal right now and if you needed proof, it was right here in Edinburgh on this joyous Valentine's Day massacre. If they play near you, make every effort to experience their power.