Alien Ant Farm Gig Review (06/01/2016)

*** RE-UPLOAD ***

Lineup: Alien Ant Farm & INME & The Dirty Youth

Venue: The Rainbow Warehouse

Occasion: The ANThology 15 Year Anniversary Tour

A chilly mid-week night in Birmingham perhaps isn’t always considered the typical timing nor area for a big budget gig for an internationally renowned artist let alone three bands worth of artists. However, the O2 has a typically brilliant reputation for booking sold out artists for a viable price in great venues around the UK. Birmingham O2 Institute is no exception to this with a very neat and tidy academy with plenty of rooms, facilities and a stage that is clearly visible regardless of who you are standing behind or where you are standing during the gig. So with the venue quality being what you would expect with the O2 music network, how well would it fit a pop rock group, a ‘noughties’ era prog rock band and Alien Ant Farm, one of the bands, maybe even full factions considered a staple of early nu-metal and commercial grunge?

The doors opened at 7 on the dot with the stage pre-set well, lighting appropriately dimmed and a half full audience looking for an early spot for later. The roadies got on with their job rapidly and it was a surprise to see the show starting within the first 20 minutes of the doors opening. Luckily I managed to squeeze myself significantly forward to get one of the best views in the house.

So Dirty Youth were the openers and had a fairly decent turn out for an early support group. Backing grumbling synth set the scene for the act to enter on the stage with a smokey dew filling the academy; it’s not a rock gig without a bit of dry ice. All dressed in black with a ‘scene kid’ Ryan Gosling on bass and ‘Mr Trilby’ on guitar, they looked the business aesthetically. The singer bounced on stage with her bright red jumpsuit perhaps indicating a bit of a culture clash on stage, which was completely unpredicted.

The first song hit and gave me an instant feel for what the levels were going to be like for the evening. The drums were nicely mic’d with the bass on the toms and kick drum being of special recognition due to their impact they had on all the audience’s guts. The dual guitars had a distinctive hard rock treble to them that pitched well with the very wholesome and full bass tone that was being supplied by emotional Ryan Gosling. Despite the immense distortion, the sound was incredibly clean with fuzz almost non-existent and feedback being utterly minimalistic.

When it came to the music however, the disappointment was established pretty early on. The singer’s vocals, though strong, did sound like a rip off Amy Lee minus the tone and minus the darkness associated behind the voice of the Evanescence singer; she has the potential, it just needs a little refining. She did make up for it with energy however, integrating with the crowd and involving herself with the audience very well. With crowd signals galore, it’s a safe assured way of getting the audience behind your bands personalities. However when it came to the rest of the bands presence, it was extremely lacklustre.

The drummer had a couple of tidy gestures to the crowd which were noticeable additions but as for the strings department… It seemed like they left their spirits in Milton Keynes the night before. Facial scrunching and ‘gurning’ to the audience doesn’t particularly suffice for holding our attentions but rather makes the whole showcase a little cringe-worthy.

The dynamics of the band were similar to say a Lacuna Coil due to their brash and bold guitar chugs and thunderous drum beats but it did get a bit much 6 songs in; it required some variation perhaps in time signature or in the softness division with the guitar becoming tiresome after a while. This is also in correlation to the tempo of each song being literally exactly the same meaning it felt like one ridiculously long pop rock song.

The decoration supplied by the guitars, whether it be in a solo or a transition, was pretty bog-standard with sustained notes rich with repetition being the only aspect on offer for us.

Overall, as a quick comment on the band, they were a very functional opener. They were there to get you re-accustomed to live music and raise the energy levels. But if they want to make that leap to the main stage or to the headlines, they really need to up their game in innovation otherwise they will be left in the dark as another Paramore clone.

After a lengthy intermission, the next band took the stage nonchalantly and it gave me the instant notion that these guys are used to this professional life. By this time the academy was nearly full to the brim with numbers in the building escalating; you couldn’t of squeezed in another person if you tried.

INME, a technical rock group from the late 90s and early 00s, had a very highly sought after reputation in this parts which was clearly visible due to how pumped the audience were throughout their set.

Instead of kicking it off with a song, the singer spoke to us first which had me invested in curiosity due to my lack of knowledge on their repertoire. He helped with the development of the show well with humour being at the forefront of his arsenal.

With dual chapman guitars, big Blackstar stacks, a 6 string bass and a beautiful drum kit set up; these were musician’s type people. They then proved it with a quite brilliant set.

Their technical ability was obvious from the get go with intricate riffs, awesome guitar harmonies and even bass tapping for that extra buzz to get the bassists in the crowd drooling. The drum sequences were also more than your competent fill or beat and actually played around with some interesting time signatures that were fun to follow. The vocals were the real vocal point here (pardon the awful attempt of a pun) and stood out more and more the further the show progressed. Whether it was the lead singers range contributed to by his flexibility of clean and scream singing or the backing singer’s powerful retention of difficult notes; it added such a thick and noticeable texture over what were already great tracks.

The audience only further contributed with a choir of drunken technical metal vocalists bellowing all their tunes and even engaging in the large, yet peculiarly tame, mosh pits here and there around the sold out midsection.

Their set began to over-run a little bit and it was obvious to the naked eye that the Alien Ant Farm supporters began to get restless. When INME announced it was their last song of the set even I let out a little ‘phew’ as it felt like the show was beginning to be stolen. So last song, wall of death, mental mosh pit… What could go wrong?

Nothing surprisingly, the last song went down swimmingly and concluded their set brilliantly leaving smiles on the faces of many metalheads, another unusual sight. A very polished performance overall, neat breakdowns, tidy instrumental sections and one hell of a vocal showcase.

Yet another intermission intervened, this time shorter than Dirty Youth’s lengthy build up period, which hence helped speed the show back up to the standard academy rate; a nice touch by a band that’s been ‘Around the Block’ (Jheeze that’s another terrible pun, I’ll stop now).

So the stage lights were off, the bar lights denied, the smoke machine pumping out at double time and then the sound began to rise…

‘Beehive’ was playing softly and gently in the background through the PA(a bonus track off of ANThology that all the diehard fans recognised) and the eerie synth, vocals and chordal progressions were building up huge anticipation for the big guys to hit the stage. Then some movement was spotted, followed by a huge crowd reaction and bang the band hit off the set with the first track off of ANThology called ‘Courage’.

Immediately bringing me back to my early days of secondary school, the nostalgia was like a freight train to the audience, immediately losing their marbles and hopping like college rock frogs at summer break. The stage presence was immediately noted since the group made a connection instantly with the front and middle rows, which we hadn’t really felt prior to this performance in this way. It no longer felt like a vocalist carrying the band involving just himself/herself with the audience, but rather a full group effort to get in close with the crowd.

The guitar tone was damn near perfect to how I remember it, sounding exactly like the original thunderous riff that impacted nu metal fans all that time ago. The distortion was left for a case of overdrive instead making the treble prominent and allowing the bass to hold it’s own with it’s wholesome sound; it sounded thick in every department which is harder than it sounds to achieve. There were parts in transitions and such that did make the guitar sound a little thin at times but it would only be noticeable to an out and out guitarist so the issue only gave a minimalistic reduction in quality to the sound.

The drums again were nicely mic’d and it was a pretty sweet setup with Ziljian cymbals all around and a TAMA kit worthy of the highest bidder. When I said nostalgic before, all AAF followers would know I meant Dryden’s voice. It never ceases to keep that individuality that made them popular in the first place and though a bit older and a bit wider, he still pulls off the rigid motions in which his stage movements are notorious for.

First song down, a very satisfied crowd and a blast from the past if I’ve ever had one; exactly what I expected when I originally bought the tickets.

The usual introductory segment was next which was encouraging to see with the band back in happy attitudes again after a tormenting ten years of failed labels and broken lineups. Playing on the shyness gimmick, Dryden was very hesitant when talking to the crowd at first, which seemed very curious but this was just a joke used to further build up our energy.

‘Movies’ came next and arguably the song of the night. With it being one of the most recognisable and commercially successful hits Alien Ant Farm ever produced, it just hit on a higher level than the other bands had done previously. The track again sounded almost identical to the original with extra vocal licks and decoration added for good measure to keep the crowd fist bumping throughout. The lighting helped add to the epic showcase and the crowd got really behind this track still remembering each lyric which they probably had booming out of their MP3s years ago.

The midsection of the set consisted of more grungy orientated anthems, which again poured out to the chorus pretty powerfully. ‘Whisper’ in particular stood out to me with a much rougher version of Dryden’s vocals growling to the audience elevating the metal aspect up tenfold. The guitar tone ditched the overdrive for this song too in favour of heavier distortion making the sound rough and murky; really hit you in the stomach this change.

By the time ‘Wish’ came around, Terry’s guitar began to lose it’s tuning significantly sounding rather out to the bass but he managed to sort this whilst performing meaning that the damage was left small and unnoticeable. It did mean the song wasn’t delivered as powerfully as I thought it would though being a crowd favourite and the stand out song on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 soundtrack. The intro was a bit out of time too and you could tell by the stage gestures facially made by band members but they managed to rekindle it together for when the verse hit so again that damage was still small.

After skipping over ‘Smooth Criminal’ from their album I could already tell they were keeping it for their finale since before this point there were ascending the track playlist from the album numerically. When ‘Universe’ hit I wondered how it would be possible to play the song since the majority does have two guitars within it however this didn’t seem to matter and it detract from the overall performance whatsoever. In fact ‘Universe’ was another stand out from the set due to its progressive rock feel and variation to the rest of the set. The drum fills were tight, the transitions were smooth and just about every note was hit on everything else, it left me more than satisfied hearing it back.

The band said bye and left the stage; it was a cheap attempt at an encore they knew they were going to get really. So after three minutes of howling, surprise surprise, the band re-enters stage left to a whopping ovation, this time with Dryden with an acoustic guitar in hand and the promise to play some tracks off of truant (their second album).

So ‘Glow’ was played first, another commercially successful hit for the band, and it sounded somewhat muddy in parts. It wasn’t quite syncing too well with the electric guitar and bass the electric acoustic used since it seemed swamped in amplitude to the others. However, killer guitar solo supplied by Terry helped making amends for things hitting it note perfect to the original studio edition. After ‘Goodbye’ had been and dropped (a surprising choice since it is one of the bands lesser known anthems off of the album) it was now time for grand finale. What else?

‘Smooth Criminal’ finally hit to the gasps and delight to the audience getting everyone on their feet and bouncing. For a cover, this band really knew how to make it their own. With guitar effects left completely alone, it was amazing how Terry managed to play the solo without anything other than a distortion pedal yet still encapsulating the sound of the original.

Once the song concluded and everyone had their taste, it was clear to see that this show was exactly what the UK fans wanted to see when Alien Ant Farm announced they were coming to town. After years of silence, a very underground and mixed reviewed album, it was nice to see the band on two feet finally bringing together old audiences again. For the average music listener this gig would probably seem better than the average turn up and listen job, but as an INME fan, let alone an Alien Ant Farm Farm, it certainly helped turn some heads and gain momentum for the groups on the UK front.

The Dirty Youth: 4/10 – Bland and unoriginal but competent musically.

INME: 7/10 – Too lengthy set for a support act but kicked ass for a good three quarters of it!

Alien Ant Farm: 8/10 – Other than strange crowd interactions and a moment of technical difficulty, a near perfect set.


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