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The O2 Academy tonight is rammed, and unexpectedly so – there was no announcement of a sell out until earlier that day. However, given that Bristol is the closest place to Wales that tonight’s headliners are playing on their current tour (until their Newport Helicop-tour in March), it’s understandable that the place is full; indeed, as I walked down to the venue, the first voices I heard heading in the same direction all had Welsh accents. Legendary Bristol gig-goer Big Jeff is also in attendance tonight, which is generally a sign that a concert is going to be something special.
The tour manager before the concert told me that the bands were ecstatic that tonight was sold out and so it proves when SOiL (8) come on and give us three quarters of an hour of American heaviness. From the moment they kick into Loaded Gun from their latest album ‘Whole’ it’s a real spectacle; Ryan McCombs has never sounded better and he leads from the front with brilliant energy. Adam Zadel and Tim King are also in great form and touring drummer Mitch Gable is on fire – give that man a permanent contract, I say. Shine On and The Hate Song stand their own against the older material from ‘Scars’ and ‘Re.de.fine’ (the latter is exceptionally well received) and a quite fantastic cover of Ram Jam’s Black Betty is also thrown into the mix which produces a huge metal hoedown in the pit and a mass sing-a-long to boot. Speaking of the pit, it doesn’t stop going for the whole night, especially not when Mitch begins the drum intro to Halo, a song that sees Ryan sing from the crowd, mobbed by fans and occasionally hoisting his microphone into the air to give us the chance to sing back as well. Critics will say they’ve had their day but there’s no chance of them slowing down just yet, particularly when they’re as exciting as this.
If there’s one band who know how to get a crowd going, it’s Skindred (9) – and in the same vein as Iron Maiden and Metallica, they don’t even have to be onstage. Their now statuatory intro tape of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck and a remixed version of the Imperial March from Star Wars is a sight to behold tonight: different coloured lights and a sense of impending mayhem whip the crowd up into a frenzy once more, and when Rat Trap opens the set the madness hits above fever pitch. In the four years I’ve been attending concerts at the Academy I have never seen the place bounce as much – Doom Riff, Ninja and the double salvo of Babylon/Bruises sees 1,600 individuals jumping up and down for all their worth. No small part of this is down to Benji Webbe though, who still holds the honour of being the best UK frontman around that isn’t called Bruce Dickinson – his banter and general onstage prescence is second to none and he has the audience laughing, applauding and shouting in equal measures. The new material from just-released Kill the Power sounds excellent, particularly the title track and an excellent rendition of Saturday. There’s also a wonderful small interlude performed by drummer Arya Goggin and DJ Dan Sturgess that includes Queen, The Prodigy, House of Pain, The Beastie Boys and Kanye West and Jay Z’s ‘Niggas in Paris’. Other highlights include main set closer Nobody, another small interlude of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop (trust me, EVERYBODY knew the words) and of course the majesty of Warning and the Newport Helicopter which is probably the best stunt by any band since Slipknot began their ‘Jump-da-fuck-up’ during Spit It Out all those years ago. It’s incredible to view and even better to be a part of.
And then, just to round off everything in a slightly arrogant yet comical way, the strains of Carly Simon singing Nobody Does It Better emit from the PA system as Skindred leave to a huge reception. There’s no doubt they’ll bring the house down at Download Festival on the Friday this year, and they deserve to.
Benji Webbe – vocals, synthesiser
Mikey Demus – guitar, backing vocals
Daniel Pugsley – bass, backing vocals
Arya Goggin – drums
Dan Sturgess – DJ
Setlist (intros and other segments in italics)
1. Rat Race
2. Stand for Something
3. Doom Riff
Intermission – ‘Yardcore’
5. State of Emergency
7. Cut Dem
Intermission – ‘Lionrock’
9. Niggas In Paris/Interglactic/Jump Around/Don’t Stop Me Now/Invaders Must Die/We Will Rock You (Interlude featuring Arya and Dan Sturgess)
10. Kill The Power
11. World’s On Fire
Intermission – ‘Thrift Shop and ‘I Don’t Want To Dance’
12. Trouble (With ‘Sad But True’ snippet)
14. Saturday (With ‘Take the Power Back’ snippet)
16. We Live
Pictures courtesy of Sean Larkin from the concert performed at Rock City, Nottingham on January 25th.