The O2 Academy, Cowley Road, Oxford, is a venue I have been many a time to see live music, however only to the smaller upstairs room where I have enjoyed the likes of Zebrahead bouncing all over the stage. The sound is great in the small space. Tonight was to be my first night in the main room.
On arrival, the venue is packed. I am happy to have my reviewer head on tonight and not to be carrying a large camera bag! The opening act, Desert Storm, give the recently arrived crowd just what they needed on a day over-saturated with Christmas cheer and expectation: heavy beats and shouting vocals. The crowd throw themselves into the emotion and weight of the music.
Next up are Sonic Boom Six, an eclectic mix of reggae, electro and ska, double-fronted with male rapping and female singing. It shouldn’t work, but it really does! “Virus” is the standout track for me, the exuberance and sheer energy bringing the crowd out even further. They can’t get enough after an initial less-than-warm reception – not entirely unexpected given that the band doesn’t automatically fit between Desert Storm and Skindred. They leave the stage to cheers, having found themselves some new fans tonight.
And then we wait. And wait. And wait. Fortunately by this point in the evening enough alcohol has been imbibed that an overlong band change over isn’t annoying for the less than sober who enjoy singing to variety of Christmas songs – thanks for the ‘Whamagedon’, O2 Academy! I had made it to 21st December!
At last I think something is happening – the Christmas songs end, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” starts up, the stage goes black then the red lights come on… then nothing. The whole track plays (it’s not a short track when played in its entirety – all 4 minutes 53 seconds of it) and nothing. Whilst the crowd does liven even more, I can see looks around me that say ‘are they ever coming on?’.
AC/DC ends and “The Death March” begins, and at last signs of life from the stage. On walks Benji to a significant cheer (and a sigh of relief on my part!), carrying a greyscale Union Jack and wearing a rather epic sequinned jacket. A variety of original and cover tracks follow (including Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” and “Out of Space” from the Prodigy), a sandwich-eating competition and a discussion about Little Richard’s effect on modern music… which is quite insightful until the point where Benji states he’s talking rubbish! Though I will say, I agree 100% that parents should play their children the likes of AC/DC and Korn (I’m sure our Ed in Chief would agree!).
“That’s My Jam” shows the band at their best, the crowd is throwing themselves into it, a catchy track that improves my opinion significantly. When it comes to the music, Skindred are fantastic, and individual, and a little strange! As “Machine” begins to play, the whole venue is arms-up jumping. Catchy riffs and upbeat rhythms mixed with the crowd singing along to the ‘Ayo, ayo’.
Just when I thought I knew what this band was about, Benji starts talking about the loss of a friend to cancer, then begins a heart breaking rendition of “Saying It Now”. ‘Tell them that you love them, tell them while you got the chance’ – not the kind of heartfelt lyrics I was expecting. At this the crowd is respectfully still and just watches, listens, mesmerised.
As “Kill The Power” starts I am reminded why this band, who have been doing this with the same line up for the last 18 years, are still selling out venues. They have powerful, meaningful lyrics with a beat you just can’t ignore!
I just wish the sound at the venue could have done this band the justice they deserved. Two colas in and I needed to make use of the facilities. I can honestly say the sound was better through the wall into the ladies restroom. Come on O2, what is that about?
Also, if you are going to have screens at the back of the venue for the people who don’t want to risk the ‘pit’ – make sure you can see anything on them! As the lights come up, they fire directly into the distinctly pixelated data camera supplying the feed and whitewash the footage. You can’t see anything!
So to round up: Desert Storm – I definitely want to see more of these guys, Sonic Boom Six – already on my Spotify list, Skindred – slow start but didn’t disappoint and finally O2 Academy – sort it out!
Photos by Sean Larkin Photography.