Two venues, Two reviewers, Two photographers. With Skindred and SOiL hitting two Midlands strongholds over the opening weekend of their latest tour we saw it as a great showcase for the Midlands rock scene. But we couldn’t just let it lie there, we needed to know which city rocked the hardest? Let the battle commence and you be the judge.
Skindred + Soil @ Rock City Nottingham, Friday 24th January, 2014
Review by Cath Holland, Photos by Tony Gaskin
We’re stood looking up at four blokes on stage who are soaking up the rapturous applause and cheers, whilst the silky voice of Carly Simon tells us “Nobody Does it Better” and at this moment, here, now, she’s not wrong. Skindred have just performed a blistering set in front of a sold out Rock City audience and even though we’re not even at the end of January yet, it’s going to be damn hard to see many gigs better the one we’ve just witnessed.
There were two other bands on before though, Viza and Soil.
Unfortunately we got caught in the biblical downpour on the A42 and arrived too late to catch the lively folk rockers from California, much to our chagrin, especially when all our East Mids friends proceeded to tell us how much they enjoyed them!!
We did arrive though in time to catch most of SOiL’s set (although not in time for Tony to get into the pit!) and they were obviously enjoying playing to packed out venues. Ryan McCombs may be slight of statue but his stage presence is as good as any metal front man, he has a good rapport with the crowd and both band and crowd feed off each others energy and enthusiasm. It’s a relatively short set, with a group of songs that ensure the fans all get involved. Biggest cheers are reserved for 37 Stiches, Black Betty and of course, Halo, for which McCombs goes into the crowd. It’s solid, heavy stuff and a great way to warm up an already excited crowd.
If you’ve never been to a Skindred show then put it on your bucket list. Their style of Dub Reggae/Metal crossover is quite infectious, but it’s been a hard slog to get where they are today and the trials and tribulations have moulded a band that are comfortable with what they do and screw anybody that doesn’t like it.
This week sees them kick off their tour to promote the latest album “Kill The Power” and tonight is the third night in so any rusty bits should’ve been polished up by now, and when the unmistakable intro to AC/DCs Thunderstruck kicks in, the crowd, as one, join in. It’s a song that gets the adrenaline flowing and anticipation building and the roars get even louder as the familiar strains of John Carpenters ‘Imperial March’ herald the arrival of the Newport Massive.
‘Ratrace’ is the opening track, quickly followed by ‘Stand For Something’ and ‘Doomriff’. We then get some typically bucolic Benji Webbe banter, a key part of a Skindred show, before the first of tonights new tracks, ‘Ninja’. The new album seems to have veered towards a more heavily Dub influenced sound, but played live they’re as vicious and punchy as ever.
One thing Skindred and Webbe have honed to perfection is the tempo and flow of a gig, they build up the excitement, before easing off a bit, we don’t want to peak too early do we? So it is that we get another five classic crowd pleasers that drive the masses to a frenzy of rhythmic ecstasy before walking off stage at the end of ‘Babylon’ with just the bands DJ/mixer entertaining us with a medley/mash-up of classic club favourites including ‘Intergalatic’/’Jump Around’/’Don’t Stop Me Now’/’We Will Rock You’, and of course everyone sang along!
Back on stage and resplendent in his new regal outfit, Webbe continues with the banter, but more importantly continues to manipulate the crowd, leading us through a heady mix of anthemic classics and new material, until the encore climax, an extended version of ‘Warning’, which included a jump into ‘Toxicity’, and large portions of the audience taking off t-shirts to finish off the night with a mass twirling of said t-shirts in what’s become known as the “Newport Helicopter”. So, as the Carly Simon classic sends us on our way, we finally have time to catch our breath and reflect on what has truly been one of the best gigs I’ve been to in a long, long time.
Skindred + SOiL + Viza @ Wulfrun, Wolverhampton – Saturday, 25th January 2014
Review by Ian Savage, photos by Mark Lloyd
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Skindred have been sorely missed from the UK live circuit in the year or so since they last hit the country’s highways. The fact that Wolverhampton’s 1000-odd capacity Wulfrun Hall is rammed within an hour of doors opening attests to the anticipation for tonight’s show, and the hundreds inside by half past seven ready for a Saturday night party are treated to LA rockers Viza opening up the evening.
They initially suffer from a slightly ropy mix, leaving the vocals and oud (yes, you read that right) struggling to be heard above the nicely-melded powerhouse of drums, bass and dual guitar – the band take it in stride though, the fact that many at the front are clearly familiar with their blend of Armenian traditional music and straight-up modern metal doing no harm at all. System Of A Down comparisons are all too easy to draw, a fact which the band readily welcome as part of their shared heritage, but Viza are a refreshingly original offering in a landfill of rock cliche; the shred guitar of mid-set ‘Siberean Standoff’ and their twisted punk take on ’30s standard ‘Whiskey Bar’ highlights how challenging-yet-accessible the outfit can be. A pretty much perfect choice for tonight’s opening slot, then.
When it comes to ‘early-2000s metal survivors’, SOiL must rank high with the headliners in terms of sheer perseverance and road-won credibility. Having played on a bill above Skindred on the latter’s first major tour, the Chicago boys burst into opener ‘Breaking Me Down’ like a group with a point to prove, the Wulfrun crowd reciprocating immediately by forming an undulating swarm of heaving bodies. Firing out ‘Loaded Gun’ with barely a breath in between demonstrates how perfectly latest album ‘Whole’ fits into the SOiL cannon, with hardly a single punter laying up their enthusiasm.
The point is rammed home as frontman Ryan promises to again take us “back to 2001 – an album called ‘Scars'” to a massive audience response, ploughing through ‘My Own’ into newer tune ‘Shine On’, the superb out-front mix pummelling the capacity crowd before the band slow it down slightly for ‘Need To Feel’. Requisite hits ‘Redefine’ and ‘Unreal’ make a welcome appearance before ‘Halo’ predictably takes the crowd to a whole new level of mental to end SOiL’s set – a band who have got their groove back for sure, and should deservedly reap the benefits.
There are seismology stations in Dudley which could pinpoint the moment that Skindred step onstage tonight. Frontman Benji is astride the stage wedge monitors from the outset, ‘Rat Race’ a perfect opener to get the crowd participating with its ‘whoa-oh-oh’ call-and-response sections reverberating from every corner of the venue. From there, the calls from the stage to “let me see you bouncing” are almost redundant, as ‘Doom Riff’, ‘Stand For Something’ and new tune ‘Ninja’ provoke an almost Pavlovian jumping response across the room.
There’s room for sentimentality amidst the brutality tonight – the Wulfrun laps up Benji’s “Nottingham ain’t got shit on Wolverhampton!” schtick, and time is found for a dub-reggae ‘Happy Birthday’ to drummer Arya (who is later gifted the modern equivalent of a drum solo over a mid-set mashup of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Intergalactic’ and Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, amongst others).
The crowd-pleasers come thick and fast (‘Cut Dem’, new album title track ‘Kill The Power’, ‘Babylon’), with bassist Dan and guitarist Mikeydemus largely holding court over their respective spaces and leaving it to the frontman, replete with mid-set costume change into a somewhat sparkly ensemble, to make the most of the venue’s expansive stage. There’s more audience-edifying oddness with snatches of Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ and Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ before the intro to ‘Pressure’ is twice cut short because of a perceived lack of crowd bouncing – they get it right eventually and are rewarded as the band hammer though the number into the made-for-this-evening ‘Saturday’ and close with ‘Nobody’.
Skindred are pushing the curfew by the time that they race back onstage to treat the faithful to an encore of new tune ‘We Live’ – and of course, no ‘dred show would be complete without a Newport Helicopter. Ryan Coombs joins the band for ‘Warning’ as t-shirts spiral across the room, the song’s ‘tread lightly/back down’ refrain utterly ignored by a crowd by now largely eligible for sectioning. As they leave to the strains of ‘Nobody Does It Better’, it’s practically impossible to argue.
See more of Tony’s and Mark’s photos here;