Photo Credit: Distortion Magazine and Ryan Gordon
A sea of beards, beanies and tattoos separated us from the bare stage which would soon be inhabited by Skindred. From the multitudes of tour t-shirts it was clear that this was an audience who had experienced the metal/reggae rockers before and were back for a second, third or fourth helping. The room stirs. The opening bars of the Star Wars’ Empire theme tune blasts through the speakers with a ferocious bass not heard in Lucas’ films. Anybody who has seen the band before knows this is the signal that front man Benji Webbe and co. are ready. We can see figures shuffling on stage in the darkness as John William’s piece becomes distorted and heavier in a fashion I’ve never before heard, and will probably warp the way I hear it forever. As the final bars come in Webbe takes the only spot of light centre stage before the band fire into their set – we are ready.
A moment of silence allows Webbe to throw his arms wide and give a humongous scream. It’s only a moment though, as guitars instantly hammer into the several hundred in attendance. They open their gig as they open their newest album, Volume, with the powerful Under Attack. Under Attack is exactly how we feel with the band holding nothing back and audience erupting into a frenzy of moshing. The band’s years of experience mean they need no time to warm up and their audience grasp the opportunity to get involved from the off.
After opening with a few very heavy metal songs, Skindred pay homage to their dance roots with an explosive cover of House of Pain’s Jump Around. The moshing changes to dancing and Webbe’s erratic running around the stage changes into a static bounce as he spits the iconic 90s rap. However, the song increasingly moves towards a more “Skindred” feel and by the final chorus we’ve moved away from the funky origins of the song. The audience and Webbe are now screaming at each other exactly what it is they want to do – “Jump around! Jump around!”
They move on to power through classics and new tunes alike. The band even show a humorous side too, acting surprised as a Justin Bieber’s Sorry comes muffled through the speaker. Webbe acts shocked and surprised, urging his audience to boo and generally scream abuse before diving into the erratically guitar driven Trouble. Webbe then pulls guitarist Michael Fry from the dark back of stage but he could just have easily come from a ZZ Top tribute band. With his long beard, shades and trilby he stands beside Webbe for a heartfelt acoustic rendition of new track Saying it Now. The rowdiness immediately dies and, aside from some soft shuffling, all is silent. Webbe shows us his multitudes of vocal talents here, the audience are believing in his lyrics and joining in as he finishes the song with his repeated soulful groaning – “I’m saying it now but I should have said it before!”
The band then explode straight back into their earlier madness and after clapping along to the previous song, the audience again respond along the same vein. Webbe’s raw energy and power comes through even more now, dreadlocks fly and a union jack flag is waved wildly above his head as he fires around the stage for Kill The Power and Nobody. The last song is extended with a chaotic instrumental, allowing the band and audience to give it all they’ve got one last time. Before leaving the gig a multitude of metal “sign of the horns” hand gestures emerge and, appropriately, Skindred offer us a cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs as a final farewell.
Leaving The Lemon Grove we were sweating, exhausted and generally battered and bruised. Skindred came to tear up a ferocious set and it’s exactly what they did. Though it’s hard to put a label on exactly what kind of band Skindred are, it is undeniable they are a band anyone with any interest in heavy music or relentless, powerful gigs should see.