Start The Machine Tour: Skindred + CKY + Danko Jones @ O2 Institute, Birmingham – 29th April 2018


Review by Paul Birch, photos by Martin Tierney

On walk a bald headed guy and two others whose dishevelled locks look they’ve already been through a workout. This is Danko Jones, lean, mean, a three man rock & roll machine and they’re banging away right from the start, a deep-ended sound booming out ‘I Gotta Rock’. The audience is receptive with a good amount of fans on hand.

For those in doubt, ‘Sugar Chocolate’ explains just who main man himself is as he raps out the number sweet and keen, while bass player CJ throws shapes or holds his hands aloft getting the crowd to clap in time. With only a short set and a series of gems to deliver, Danko Jones himself is pretty static tonight, singing into the mic while staring into the crowd and making facial expressions, heading for a brief visit centre stage for a solo. Yet he also takes time out to banter with the crowd; and as one audience members calls out for ‘Kiss On The First Date’ he makes wisecracks about it being next on their list. A great song, catchy as hell, delivered with panache following a long rumbling bass and drum intro. By chance, I’m surrounded by a number of women, they come in all shapes and sizes, spanning a generation or two also, and they’re all dancing, catching the mood.


Drummer Rick Knox makes out like Animal from The Muppets going crazy with a cowbell as Danko veers between riffing off a chicken scratch nature and hammer-on squeals for ‘Full Of Regret’ and ‘Had Enough’ has them pummelling away like Iron Maiden, right down to CJ’s foott resting Steve Harris style on the monitors.

‘Gonna Be A Fight Tonight’ raises the bar again, from its staccato entry point to its “Oi! Oi!” aggro chorus, ‘Lovercall’ rides on CJ’s menacing bass line against which Danko inverts seductive guitar lines and an almost lullaby vocal approach as he sings “Do it, do it right”. And while I’ve long considered the band a cross between The Ramones and Thin Lizzy musically, they come on like The Stranglers messing it up with The Cult for ‘Crazy’ wherein the guitarist hangs around centre stage a while longer to solo. There’s more cowbell ‘For My Little Rock N Roll’, the band opening and closing with numbers from their last album release Wild Cat, and then that’s it off they stroll, far too short and bitter sweet; but what a great way to start a Sunday evening.

An already full crowd is now becoming claustrophobic, there are more plastic pints of beer being sold here to the predominantly young crowd than I’ve seen before, and who needs that old rock cliché of dry ice when there’s so much vaping going on. Then, as the mobile phones come out lights dim and the three piece that is CKY arrive on stage and there’s a rush of pounding sound, distorted guitar and synthesisers (presumably via recordings rather than someone playing them off stage). The sprightlier ‘Sporadic Movement’ comes next though the band’s own stage movements are hardly that, guitarist/vocalist Chad Ginsberg throwing himself all over the shop and bass player Matt Deis shrugging his shoulders while pacing towards front of stage and back parallel to drummer Margera.

‘Attached At The Hip’ proves a more melodic number with less going off at tangents while there’s a strong drum groove to ‘Flesh Into Gear’ and some nice gnarly bits throughout. ‘Replaceable’ features a squiggly distorted guitar solo, ‘Rio Bravo’ features bouts of rough-edged musical swerving, and I’m now ready to bet those keyboards sounds I’ve been hearing are programmed come ‘Frenetic Amnesiac’.


On record, what I’ve heard is pretty solid post-grunge alt.rock but tonight Ginsberg’s not as good a guitarist as his leaps and bounds suggest, and I find them far less compelling than the previous act. I’m in the minority however because pretty much everyone else here is moving as if they’re been cast overboard and are moving collectively to the rhythm of a very choppy sea.

Announcing ‘Head For A Breakdown’ as a new number there’s a broken chord intro before a rush of synthesised sound cuts through, Ginsberg singing more fully and clearer here, and they follow it with two more numbers before leaving the stage having entertained their paying public.

I begin questioning my age. Am I too old to be here? A bearded young lad asks what I’m doing, and I’m not sure if he thinks my taking notes infers I’m an undercover cop or just that putting pen to paper is rarely done these days. Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ comes over the PA and I remember being a schoolboy when that first came out, most of those here tonight are singing along because of the latest TV advert it has been used for, but they sing even louder when Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ comes on (because they’ve suffered their grandparents Greatest Hits collection or it’s standard karaoke material they’ve grown up on?). They also sing along to several tunes that go completely over my head, but the point is this is a Sunday night and The Institute is packed. It really doesn’t matter that their tastes aren’t my cup of tea, rock ain’t dead it’s just evolving slowly into something else to survive.


Skindred’s Start The Machine album cover is festooned across the back of the stage. It’s pretty impressive in a kind of Disney’s Lion King by way of their earlier anthropomorphic Robin Hood movie; foxy but dependable is the message I’m getting. Then the PA cranks up a notch or two and AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstuck’ screams out at us as red lights flash on and off from on stage. It sets the mood nicely, but does go on a tad long when we know it’s really here as entrance music for the main act.

On they come, bass player Daniel Pugsley, drummer Arya Goggin, and guitarist Mikey Demus who’s courting a ZZ Top look . ‘Star Wars Imperial March’ is churned out, though I’m again not quite sure how much of it’s the guys on stage or the offstage programmed sounds that are definitely in vogue tonight. Finally, singer Benji Webbe bounces on stage, decked out in a rhinestone encrusted leather jacket and the first of a wardrobe full of scarves he’ll be wearing tonight, his dreadlocks flailing about as – propelled by a hefty drum beat – they settle into ‘Big Tings’. It’s big and meaty while being healthy enough to shrug from side to side with flair; a heady brew of contemporary rock and reggae.

They follow through with ‘Stand for Something’ and ‘Selector’, and it’s apparent this is an energetic though carefully crafted stage show – with the various sequenced beats and sounds being added through the PA it has to be timed right. Par for the course with hip hop and those pop acts who mime for a living, but I’m again feeling too old a git here trying to weigh up how this compares to Queen’s live overdubs for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Ultimately, the fact remains I like a lot of what I’m hearing, being particularly impressed by Webbe’s toasting on the latter tune.


Demus applies a skewered guitar sound for ‘Pressure’, the song settles into a heavy off-kilter synth-funk, punk and pop vocal melody melange with another snippet of AC/DC material stuck in for good measure. A change of guitars and ‘Machine’ pummels musically while Webbe ensures audience participation as they join in singing “Eh-oh, eh-oh!” then waving their arms in the air as they chant “Rock and roll saved my soul!” prior to Demus soloing. Offstage sounds and voiceover introductions lead us into some heavy reggae for the gaming generation with ‘Ninja’ whereas ‘Sound The Siren’ adds jungle rhythms and more brutal chords.

Only someone living in Great Britain can stand on a stage and discuss the weather, which is what this Welsh front man now does before they surge into ‘That’s my Jam’ and his voice takes on an unexpected Phil Collins’ quality (Seriously). By now, the already packed floor is heaving as people futilely try to edge closer towards the stage. Taking things down a step or two, Webbe relates how he lost a friend through cancer, and that we should try to ensure we spend quality time with those who matter in our lives. It leads into ‘Saying It Now’ where he and Demus on acoustic guitar sit on the drum riser to play the ballad. Truthfully – admirable sentiments aside – it goes on a bit, the guitar chords rather dreary.

That’s more than made up for with ‘Kill the Power’ that’s big, bouncy and squeals all over the place with tempo changes galore and even a lovers rock section. There’s much crowd surfing going on and even more collective raised hand gestures and this is when I really know I’m out of my depth youth culture wise – But, hey, I dig the music, man! Then, following their final number which is ‘Nobody they’re off and we’re waiting for encores.

When Skindred do return we get snippets of Metallica in ‘Rock Riot/Trouble’ though my overall impression is of Big Audio Dynamite if Mick Jones had been a bovver boy Slade fan instead of being into Mott the Hoople. “There’s always free cheese in a rat trap” sings Webbe knowingly with the next number that hits you like a head on collision one minute then recedes back with a slinky symphonic mode shift.

Finally the night must end and we are offered the hard core sounds of ‘Warning’ where the crowd proceed to sit down on the floor before rising as one and making with those waving hand motions again. I am at the church of the god of rock, it’s just a different denomination to the one I’m used to I tell myself. I even smile when they start going “Boom, boom – Shake The Room!” with everyone taking their t-shirts off and swinging them round in a circle over their head. Including the females present. I reserve judgment on comments here unsure if I’ll come across like a dirty old man or a sour-faced prig. Either way, no one looks as if they’ve been short changed by the scope offered in tonight’s choice of musical entertainment and signing off the evening with Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ coming over the PA might be a bit subjective, but what the hell – It’s only rock ‘n’ roll!

Danko Jones Setlist
1. I Gotta Rock
2. Sugar Chocolate
3. The Twisting Knife
4. Kiss On The First Date
5. Full of Regret
6. Had Enough
7. Gonna Be A Fight Tonight
8. Lovercall
9. Crazy
10. My Little RnR

1. The Human Drive in Hi-Fi
2. Sporadic Movement
3. Attached at the Hip
4. Flesh Into Gear
5. Replaceable
6. Rio Bravo
7. Frenetic Amnesic
8. Head for a Breakdown
9. 96 Quite Bitter Beings
10. Bite It You Scum

1. Star Wars Imperial March
2. Big Tings
3. Stand for Something
4. Selector
5. Pressure
6. Machine
7. Ninja
8. Sound the Siren
9. That’s My Jam
10. Saying It Now
11. Kill the Power
12. Nobody

1. Roots Rock Riot / Trouble
2. Rat Race
3. Warning