LIVE: BLINK 182 – CASTLEFIELD BOWL, MANCHESTER – 14/07/17 118

In the wake of the Manchester Arena terror attack in May, many fans wondered whether US rockers Blink 182 would have to cancel their planned show in the city – their first for five years. Fortunately, for them – and to the delight of the thousands in attendance – they instead managed to find a new venue to play on the same night they were due on stage at the Arena. But before they played a single note, it was left to support acts The Front Bottoms and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls to get the crowd warmed up…

New Jersey band The Front Bottoms, with their songs including “Twin Size Mattress” and “The Beers” were entertaining enough, largely because of the energetic melodies, but they are certainly some way off being ready for headline slots, particularly at a venue the size of the Bowl – not at all helped by having one of their members do nothing more than sit on a couch in the middle of the stage.

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls fared much, much better, and the expletive-filled set of cracking tune after tune, beginning with “Get Better”, was just what the crowd needed to truly hype themselves up for the main event.

Taking a moment to address the fact that everyone was gathered at a new venue due to the horror and tragedy that unfolded back in May, before performing “The Next Storm” Turner said, to a deafening roar of support from the crowd:

“My heart fucking bled for Manchester on that day, but here’s the thing that we need to do. When someone tries to terrorise us out of what we do, we tell them to get fucked and we tell them we’re not going to stop…”

Calling a fan named Becky up on stage to play – or in her case, attempt to play – the harmonica during “Dan’s Song” provided a few minutes of light hearted humour, Frank’s diving into the crowd had fans in raptures and “Photosynthesis” had everyone – from those at the barrier, to the hundreds sat at the back, dancing with semi-reckless abandon. By the time he left the stage, there was no doubt Turner had delivered a set which was, in this reviewers’ mind at least, going to be hard to top.

Just as Blink 182 took the stage, in typical British summertime style, the heavens began to open but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It’s been two years since Matt Skiba, perhaps best known for being the front-man of Alkaline Trio, stepped into Tom DeLonge’s shoes, but in reality, you certainly couldn’t tell. Instead Skiba played and sang with as much passion as his predecessor had and, although it was left mostly to Mark Hoppus – bounding around with the energy of a man half his age – to engage with the crowd, he certainly fulfilled his share of the role when it came to entertaining the thousands who had come to see him, and them, play.

“Feeling This” and “The Rock Show” got things off to a strong start, while Barker, regarded as one of the greatest drummers of this era, proved his own worth as he powered his way through several numbers from the new album California including “Built This Pool” and “She’s Out Of Her Mind.”

As expected, “All The Small Things” went down a storm and a proposal being made in the first few rows of the crowd saw Hoppus call the couple up on stage, where he invited the guy to play bass. However for many, a real highlight of the bands’ set came right at the end when, as the trio began to make their off stage, Barker’s son Landon delivered a drum solo which would make the likes of Tre Cool and the late, great John Bonham proud.

With a hit-filled set that relied heavily on pyro which included fire and a ticket cannon, although Blink 182 were, and are, most certainly entertaining, the minimal amount of chat and real interaction with their audience – especially compared to Frank Turner – left some, this reviewer included, feeling like there was a palpable divide between band and the fans, and given the fact they’ve been going for 25 years – that alone made their performance tonight considerably disappointing.

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REVIEW: THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS – AMERICA 36

Five years in the making, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ new album ‘America’, which Jared promoted this week by hitch-hiking his way across his home country as part of an event called #MarsAcrossAmerica, is most certainly a considerable shift away from what members of the Echelon have heard from the trio (though current duo) over the years. But is this said shift good or bad?

Beginning with “Walk On Water” which introduced both old and new fans alike to the bands’ new rather electro-edged sound, ‘America’ starts off well, especially given that the rather radio friendly “Dangerous Night” follows on from it.

“Rescue Me” ups the tempo somewhat, and with its toe-tapping, body swaying rhythm, combined with Jared’s rough edged vocal, it’s just over three and a half minutes of enjoyable considerably upbeat rock, and the simplistic chorus in particular will work well when – or if – its performed on their current Monolith tour.

Prior to the release of the album, the band gave a sneak peak of one of the album’s collaborations, with A$AP Rocky. Having watched said sneak peak, this reviewer personally felt his involvement was random and pointless. Fortunately however, and for reasons unknown, he doesn’t feature on my (likely all UK albums) version and with the song performed for the most part in a breathy, almost dream-like manner, it would most likely have been completely ruined with Rocky’s inclusion.

The “Monolith” instrumental, AKA track 5, doesn’t really serve any purpose, however it does lead into the album’s one collaboration that REALLY does work – that of Jared and Halsey on “Love Is Madness” – one of the darker tracks, but not the darkest, on the album. She compliments Jared perfectly, enhancing the song and its sultry mood/feel to the point where it easily stands out as a highlight of the collection.

“Great Wide Open” is an inspiring track, and one that’s perfect to listen to when you’re out discovering yourself or exploring this world we live in, or most likely, doing both at the same time. It’s the type of song you can see playing behind a montage of a person’s life, as their friends and family pay tribute to or celebrate them in some form or another, and with that in mind, it’s one of the album’s strongest, and most emotive, pieces.

Mixing simple electronic hooks, plenty of synth and a chorus which, it could be argued, is rather understated, “Hail To The Victor” almost flashes back to the ‘Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams’ era of the band, perhaps included to draw that chapter to an undeniable close. The darkest, deepest number on the album comes in the form of “Dawn Will Rise.” With lyrics including “Come and hit me, strike me while I’m down” and “Fortunes fade in time, I must change or die.”, it’s certainly not a track to listen to if you are in a good mood, as its sombre, almost depressing tone, matched by Jared’s almost defeated vocal performance, will soon shatter said mood to pieces.

If there’s any real surprise on the album, it’s Shannon’s Leto’s vocal on “Remedy.” It’s raw and stripped back in comparison to any track that has come before and comes after it. There’s an organic feel to the song, and Shannon’s performance, although different, is so in a phenomenally good way, and he’s no doubt going to find himself requested to play it live.

The chorus of “Oh Oh Oh”, on “Live Like A Dream”, in a nice touch from the band, was recorded at one of their Camp Mars events, and serves as an audible reminder for those who were there of the project they were involved in (though it’s unlikely they knew what it was for at the time) and the fun they had, while for other members of the Echelon, it’s a nice throwback to the ‘This Is War’ era when many of them featured on that album, having participated in ‘summits’ around the world.

“Rider” has so far proved to be quite a strong, albeit new, inclusion to the band’s tour setlist, and with its rising crescendo as the piece nears its end, it’s quite stirring and powerful. Meanwhile, on the deluxe edition of the album, the acoustic, choir-inclusive version of “Walk On Water” might lack the energy of the original, but with the electronics removed, it brings Jared’s genuine vocal ability to the forefront again, and such has been considerably lacking up to this point.

With remixes growing in popularity, it’s not that surprising to find the band have included 2, the first being a R3hab remix of “Walk On Water.” For those who like a more dance-like and continued electro-feel to their songs, it’s not a bad version by any means, but it’s not the best remix ever made either, and the Cheat Codes remix of “Dangerous Night” doesn’t fare that much better.

Despite the new sound and styles with which the band have experimented on this collection, ‘America’ is still at its heart, very much a Thirty Seconds To Mars album, and if the social media reaction is anything to go by, it’s proving a hit with their huge following. Yes there are tracks on the album that don’t quite work as well as they should, like the remixes, but for the majority, lyrically and instrumentally, it’s a considerably solid piece of work that fans hopefully won’t have to wait another five years for in order to hear its follow-up.

REVIEW: FALL OUT BOY PLUS GUESTS – MANCHESTER ARENA 29/03/18 37

Opening for a band as much loved as Fall Out Boy are is never particularly easy, but with considerable flair and a lot of sparkle, opening act MAX, although currently largely unknown to UK music fans, does his best to warm up the fast-filling arena with a set filled with songs that showcase his impressive vocal range and his rather fancy dance moves that could be considered ‘stolen’ from the likes of Michael Jackson. His US smash hit “Lights Down Low” is perhaps the best received song he performs, and as time goes on, the crowd do become more receptive to his calls for them to clap or sing along. Come the end of his set, MAX, with another thank you to everyone who has come out in time to see him, exits the stage to warm, although not considerably loud applause.

Second support Against The Current fare much better and almost bounce their way on stage with an energy that doesn’t let up until the second they leave. There’s an air of Paramore’s Hayley Williams about front-woman Chrissy Costanza and her powerful voice, perhaps showcased best via “Gravity”, easily soars through the air of the vast venue, captivating and entertaining those watching the band on stage. With a new album due out later this year, there are likely to be big things ahead for the trio from Poughkeepsie.

As the lights go down for the third time, a countdown appears on the big screens and as the clock ticks down, the screams and cheers of the now packed arena proceed to get louder and louder, reaching almost ear-piercing volume when Fall Out Boy make their first appearance, and kick things off with “The Phoenix”, complete with on-stage pyro. From there, it’s a case of them blasting out hit after hit, with Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz marching from one side of the stage to the other, working, as they always have, in harmony with one another, and encouraging the crowd to dance and jump.

“Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” results in the venue almost vibrating from the sound of 12,000+ people singing along to the chorus at the top of their voices, while the catwalk that splits the arena floor in two sees plenty of use from all band members aside (obviously) from drummer Andy Hurley, who parade their way down it, instruments or microphone in hand.

Taking a seat at a grand piano, Stump shows off just how good his vocal range is with a performance of “Save Rock and Roll,” during which he covers both his own role in the song as well as that of Elton John. It’s a far cry from the EDM, heavier sound to the song that most fans are used to, but it works, and goes down a treat.

While most performers tend to stick only to playing a main stage, the band then proceed to delight those seated at the back of the arena by appearing on a two-part B stage, which raises the quartet high into the air, putting Patrick and Pete in particular at almost eye level with those ‘up in the gods.’ Renditions of “Dance, Dance” and “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” work the crowd up into a frenzy, and the cheering which follows lasts until the band leave the B-stage and make their way back to the main one.

With the show quickly drawing to a close, the band maintain the high energy momentum they’re so well known for with “I Don’t Care”, soon followed by fan-favourite “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”, while “Church” also makes its live debut. The four song encore which follows a few minutes later begins with “Uma Thurman”, but it’s the middle two tracks, “Thriller” and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” that see the venue once again come alive, shaking with the force of those both in the seats and on the floor singing and dancing along. Closer “Saturday” meanwhile sees Pete get really up close and personal with the fans as, making his way down the catwalk, and laying his bass guitar aside, he reaches out to them as they sing – practically scream – the final few notes, just as confetti explodes from the ceiling all around them.

With such a vast catalogue of hits and an army of dedicated fans, there was little doubt tonight’s Fall Out Boy show was going to be anything less than great, and judging by the grins on the faces of the thousands in attendance as they made their way to the exits, it certainly was just that.