Live Review: Steel Panther – Birmingham

Live Review: Steel Panther - O2 Academy, Birmingham
18th May 2023
Support: Winger
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Tim Finch

Slightly under 14 years from 'Feel the Steel', Steel Panther are back on UK shores for another round of heavy metal entertainment. With the same wigs, same humour and same spandex (though a new bassist), it really is an achievement on their part how full the O2 Academy gets by the time they're about to play. With glam legends Winger accompanying them in support, tonight's a treat for all fans of the big, loud 80s metal sound. Is the joke getting old? Maybe. Do their audience care? Probably not.

I'm not massively clued up about glam, but it came as bit of a surprise when I'd seen that Winger were alive, kicking, playing with Steel Panther with the classic lineup and had released the album 'Seven' a couple of weeks prior. They know what their fans have come to see them for - with 'Proud Desperado' the sole representation from 'Seven', they primarily draw faithfully from their three heyday albums.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

It's a set of massive choruses, big riffs, power ballads and impressive individual displays. The drum break shortly before 'Pull Me Under' is incredible, but I'm not sure if a dedicated slot in the setlist for an unaccompanied guitar solo is really needed for a support slot. Then again, I guess 80s glam is of a different era. 

Michael Starr makes a cameo as 'Headed for a Heartbreak' is played towards the end of the set. You can easily see how Winger, the band and the person, have had a part to play in Steel Panther's sound and persona. It's a real classy touch for them to bring them out this time, while equally cementing Steel Panther's status as modern legends.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Kip Winger, in turn, is outstanding at the front. His vocals have a classic, iconic and refined quality to them, with his choruses resonating incredibly powerfully across the audience. They are the sort where you can sing along regardless of whether you know the song or not. He conducts the crowd into a call-and-response shortly before final song 'Madalaine', which ends satisfyingly as the two guitars and bass come together to jam out for a big finish. It's a fitting closing epitome of the top-class showmanship all around. Who knows how many opportunities we'll have to see them on these shores? But yeah, they've got it. Great fun.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Slowly the Steel Panther backdrop is hoisted up. Shamefully, I've never seen Steel Panther before, though I know what to expect. The high-octane 'Eyes of a Panther', their classic set opener, is a real thrill, and the first true entire-room singalong of the night. They also show their theatrical side early on over second song 'Let Me Come In' and its big finish (no pun intended). Steel Panther aren't here to just play the songs as if we were listening to the record. It's an entertaining heavy metal party and they do things their way here.

The flipside to that coin is the ten minutes of stage banter that follows. I can't deny the old adage of 'leave the crowd wanting more', but after two songs in the set, it starts to feel more like 'get on with it and play' by the time minute six or seven roll around. Nonetheless, it's still full of laughs and over-the-top humour, and the interactions between band members and between band and crowd are an integral part of the show. 'I'm almost 70 and I still love getting high and fucking bitches!', jokes Michael Starr - it's all very tongue-in-cheek, and if you take this too seriously, you've entirely missed the point.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Lead guitarist Satchel acts as more of a co-frontman on the mic than purely the shredder-in-chief of the band. Sure, his extended guitar break that leads into a foundation-shaking 'Death to All But Metal' is nothing short of amazing, but between songs he speaks as much as Michael. The way they tease Spyder is hilarious, though he's also very confident at speaking to the crowd and feels like a natural, ideal addition to the band. He throws out what he calls 'cocaine candy' as if they were guitar picks after one of the songs - presumably, just candy. Stix is mostly off-mic on the drum kit, but still boasts a great presence, looking cool as a cucumber as he casually catches drumsticks thrown to him from the wings without missing a beat. He also makes a Def Leppard joke midset... I'm sure that I don't have to spell that one out. 

There's plenty of anthems for the diehards post-'Balls Out'. 'The Burden of Being Wonderful', from 2014's 'All You Can Eat', is a rousing power ballad early on, and 'Ain't Dead Yet', taken from this year's 'On The Prowl', is a true lighters-in-the-air moment (with a couple of phone torches). It shows an introspective side to their songwriting, though with plenty of one-liners within the lyrics to make us chuckle. Satchel shows off a genuinely beautiful side to his playing, with emotive slide guitars illustrating the ballad. 

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Nonetheless, they follow up from new single '1987' with three in a row from 'Feel the Steel'. Bringing up a fan onstage for 'Girl From Oklahoma', who boasts an impressive vocal range when handed the mic, the stage fills up with female fans for 'Community Property', a modern classic. Amid a game of frisbee with Michael Starr's hat, Steel Panther close off with 'Party All Day' and a glorious encore of 'Gloryhole'. The singalongs are rousing and cathartic, the showmanship is second to none, and the musicianship is mind blowing. They leave the stage to absolutely rapturous applause. 

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

A Steel Panther gig is more than a set or a performance, it's entertainment, it's a night hosted by Starr, Stix, Satchel and Spyder. You take it for what it is - you wonder if a few minutes less of stage banter could have squeezed in a song like '17 Girls In A Row', 'Pussywhipped' or 'Just Like Tiger Woods'. The other side to that argument is that you don't go to a Steel Panther show for a set like System of a Down's Download headliner in 2017, where as many songs were crammed in at the expense of audience interaction.

Steel Panther show no signs of slowing down, growing up or toning down in 2023. Michael Starr is simply supreme on the vocal mic, able to hit his full range of notes in a way that defies his age. Satchel remains the definitive glam shredder for a younger generation of rockers, and the rhythm section never over-play. Who knows how long the joke will last - but when it's this fun and entertaining, you hope to have plenty more nights like this. 

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography
Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

All photo credits: Tim Finch Photography

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