“Are you nervous?” I ask him.
“Nervous?” he laughs. “Am I fuck!”
I am talking with Niro Knox, lead guitarist and topless beer-drinker of heavy rock outfit, King Lizard. We are leaning against the sticky, vodka-strewn bar of The Underworld, Camden, waiting for his cue to go on stage.
Across the room, holding court to all who will listen, stands Flash Roxx Sawyer, the band’s singer and chief libertine. He is dressed for the occasion, the smudged eye shadow nicely offsetting an outfit of denim, leather and snake skin. And if I was ever in any doubt of the man’s attitude to life, the words on his well-worn gig shirt read, ‘Good Girls go to Heaven, Bad Girls go to London.’
Moments later we are joined by the band’s bassist and self-confessed nice guy, Lee Benz. It transpires that Lee spent the day painting walls somewhere in north London, and while he readily confesses this isn’t very rock and roll, he reminds me that Elvis Costello used to work as a data entry clerk. I move to inspect the man’s white-enamel covered fingers, only to be interrupted by a tornado of grins, giggles and goodwill in the form of Moyano El Buffalo, the band’s marvellously eccentric Spanish drummer. Reunited, the lads pose for a few photographs before shuffling off to pry Flash from the bar and head backstage. I dutifully follow, but get pulled back by a bouncer who tells me that only musicians can enter the hallowed green room. With little else to do, I lay claim to a bottle of cider and head into the pit
It is a relatively small gig, with no more than 150 people buzzing around inside its sweat-covered walls. But this makes things interesting, for the true test of a band is if they can deliver to a crowd that has parted with £13.50 to be entertained in their own back yards. Yes, King Lizard may be used to big European shows on expansive outdoor stages, but this dingy venue in the heart of north London is a lot more intimidating and a lot less forgiving.
The show thunders to life from the get-go. A torpedo of musical Semtex impregnating the room with the rasping, ear-bursting anthem Viva la Decadence, before seamlessly launching into the brand-new hard rock sing-along, If It’s a Sin. And considering that this is the first time the tune has been played live since the release of Nightmare Living the Dream, both the band and the audience get into it as if it were a decades-old classic. The unremitting energy continues with the ballsy Kneel to the King… any old excuse for Flash to stamp his mark as the new Sultan of Scream.
As is standard practice in the predictably unpredictable world of hard rock, a halt is then called. Flash struts about with his imaginary crown. Niro cajoles a group of rock chicks with a chorus of sweet nothings. The crowd go wild. Somebody smashes their pint glass. Power for the course really.
And so the night continues, with the excellent This Ain’t Love successfully making the transition from a stomping rock sing-along to an interactive and timeless crowd thriller. Which is no surprise, as this was the one track that stood out above all others on Nightmare’. But has it got the legs to make it another 25 years? Without question my friend, without question.
At one point Flash slams a bottle of Becks into Niro’s mouth, but the Les Paul-toting Israeli has no issue with this, tipping his head back and shredding the neck at a speed and with a taste that even Eddie Van Halen might envy. Nightmare’ itself receives a rapturous applause and a whole lotta determined headbanging, with the crowd fully getting behind Flash’s encouragement to chant, “no job, no cash, no future!” It always helps to have a tasty bass lick to keep things moving while the front man works the crowd. Nice one Lee.
But the night’s highlight was yet to come, and it wasn’t Flash’s continual jerking on the mic or Moyano’s teeth-bearing, but the highly unexpected rocked-up outro of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. Put it this way, the last time I saw a crowd get that out of order was in the summer of 2010… To say this cover is anything short of marvellous would be a criminal injustice.
Praise for King Lizard is endless, but what about some refined critique? Where, and indeed how, can they improve? Well, to be perfectly honest, they need a second guitar just to bolster Niro’s exceptional (and at times, nutty) lead work. Rhythm players are two a penny, hell, even I’ll do it. But joking aside, this is something I strongly recommend that they consider as it will allow Mr. Knox even more scope for overdriven lunacy. Other than that, I again find them difficult to fault.
King Lizard is an assured and convincing outfit with talent in abundance. The listener can readily believe in them and they in the listener. The only catch is trusting that the band believe as strongly in each other as the fans… because if they do, then we have got something truly special on our hands.
And with that, I am off to get another cider.