Skindred, Soil & Viza @ Manchester Academy 02/02/14

Only 2 weeks after my first gig of the year, Lamb of God, I am back queueing up outside the Academy in the freezing cold again, but the up-side to getting to a gig really early, is that you are sometimes lucky enough to run into band members as they are buying their dinner, like I ran into Mikey Demus (Mike Fry) of Skindred in a kebab shop down the road from the Academy.

Mike.Skindred.Manchester.Academy.2014

Soon after the crowds began to flock in from the cold, Californian rockers Viza took to the stage. A very eclectic looking bunch, I must say!

So, on one side of the stage you have a guitarist with a Salvador-Dali-meets-Rollie-Fingers moustache and on the other side you have a deranged looking Oud player with a funky beard, making facial gestures that resemble that of someone who has escaped from an asylum.

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During their first couple of songs you could feel the System Of A Down influences strongly coming through, and after a quick google session about the band, it turns out they are associated with Serjical Strike Management headed by the lead singer of SOAD, Serj Tankian.

It is hard to pigeon-hole their sound, it is so varied; one moment they have a Mediterranean vibe going on, the next minute they are rockier and in the song My Mona Lisa, I felt the urge to start Cossack dancing (the Russian dance, where you squat and kick your legs out alternately).

After front man, K’noup Tomopoulos, had finished having a chat to the audience, he said: ”If you do not know the lyrics to this next song, you should leave the building”.  I was surprised to hear this, as I didn’t think so many people would know their lyrics that well, but it turns out that the next song was actually a cover of Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar), which was made famous by The Doors in 1966.

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After an enjoyable, weird and upbeat set, they said their goodbyes and left the crowd nicely warmed up for SOiL.

For more photos of Viza:

click here

I was very excited to be seeing SOiL, as it was their last show in the UK for this European tour.

After an eager wait, on marched the band and everyone erupted into an applause.

They kicked off their set with Breaking Me Down, which was one of various songs played during their set, from their 2nd and most well known studio album, Scars.

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During the rests between the songs, frontman Ryan McCombs, would thank everyone insatiably for being there that night and for continuing to support an ”old” band like SOiL.  I especially liked when he said: ”The music begins and ends with you, without you there would be no music…”   It is nice to see famous bands being so humble and having such a lack of an ego trip.

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Then, a familiar intro started playing, it was Shine On Me, their powerful first single from their sixth studio album Whole, released in 2013. The power that song emits is goose-bump inducing even on Youtube, so I was expecting the crowd to explode when they played this, but much to my astonishment, the crowd seemed to have entered into a mass coma, because apart from the mosh pit in the middle, the rest of the crowd were not very receptive to this groove-infested beast of a song. Shame on you all!

Yet, when the band ripped into a cover of Ram Jam’s Black Betty, everyone seemed to suddenly  re-awaken, and chanted the lyrics whilst dancing around. And that was that, the crowd was alive again and totally engaged with the music. Just as well too, as Ryan decided to jump into the crowd during the performance of the ultimate fan favourite Halo. I couldn’t see him from where I was standing but I could occasionally see his iconic microphone being thrust into the air like a knights sword before entering battle.

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They also played other great songs like Loaded Gun, Redefine, Hate Song & Unreal, to which the crowd were asked show their metal unicorn (to raise their middle finger in the air)

All too soon though, their set drew to a close and after another display of gratitude from the band, they vacated the stage. I would have loved to see them do a longer set to be honest.

For more photos of SOiL:

click here

During the break, as the stage was being prepared for Skindred, they played Pantera’s I’m broken; that is the second gig consecutively in the Academy that has played Pantera during the break. Love it! Although one thing I would like to say to the sound engineer is: All bands deserve to have the same quality and volume of sound as the headliners.

Then, the lights go out and the iconic sound of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck booms out of the speakers accompanied by synchronised strobe lights , and the crowd chanted the lyrics and crowd surfed as if AC/DC were actually performing it.

Suddenly the Imperial March song came on and the band appeared on stage halfway through the song. Another very eclectic looking bunch, with guitarist Mikey Demus sporting his statement ginger ZZ Top-esque beard and white Ray Ban Wayfarer glasses; and frontman Benji Webbe in his silky silver shirt and black waistcoat with spiky shoulder pads and sunglasses with equally huge spikes on the side.

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Starting off their set with Rat Race was the perfect appetiser for the rest of the insanity that was to come in their set.

In all honesty, I do not recall noticing when one song ended and the next one started because there was so much going on in each song, random snippets of music would be thrown into the mix and then Benji would start urging the crowd to ”wave like the queen” or to boo their DJ for not liking Metallica or Slipknot. 

One intro to a song that cannot be lost in the midst of the mayhem was that of Ninja. We all heard the well known narration blasting through the speakers: ”In a far away land 4 brothers and 1 bastard son, you. Became known as the ultimate fighting machine. I bring you The Ninja!”

And then everyone screamed ”Enter the Ninja” and then BOOM the crowd just erupted into a sea of people jumping in synchronism. It was truly, electric!

I have never put a video on here before, but you need to watch the first 30 seconds of this video to see what I mean about this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuC3n7brNmo

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Benji carried on engaging with the crowd in a way I have never seen any other frontman do, he literally had everyone eating out of his hand. I found it particularly amusing when he got a Skindred t-shirt and said ”Who wants a t-shirt?”, then dangled it in front of the crowd as if he was dangling a fillet steak in front of a lion. Everyone screamed for the t-shirt, and Benji simply looked at them and said ”Well, they are £20 from the merch store at the back, you stingy bastards!” (Remember he has a strong Welsh accent, so it made it even funnier)

By this time it was halfway though the show and while Benji went to get changed into his gold attire, the DJ played a variety of random tracks from different artists, perfectly blended to create a seamless flow (Jay Z/ Beastie Boys/ House of Pain/ Queen/ The Prodigy/ Jason Derulo) and drummer Arya Goggin was an absolute beast on the drums, keeping up with all the song changes and really going for it.

A couple of songs later, Arya was replaced on the drums by the roadie, I do not know what happened there.

It was truly a lot more than just a concert, it was one hell of a show, with a huge amount of energy, a light show, musical diversity and great musicians. Also, in contrast to other frontmen, Benji did not use his status to encourage the crowd to be violent or disrespectful, on the contrary, he said: ”Does anyone hate gays? Does anyone hate black people? No? Good. Because when you come to a Skindred concert you are all here as a big family” That is a thumbs up from me!

They played other great songs like Nobody, Pressure, State of Emergency and of course the very catchy Kill The Power, which is still stuck in my head now.

For more photos of Skindred:

click here

On the way out, we were lucky enough to bump into Ryan from SOiL who was chilling by the merchandise stall. Despite hesitating to ask if I could photograph him, because even though he is an artist, he is also a human being and might not want to have a camera shoved in his face while he is relaxing post-gig, I decided to ask him and he did not mind at all. He was very nice to my husband and shook his hand insatiably and thanked him for his support. This guy gets 10/10 for humbleness! Great end to the night!

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