Skindred / Raging Speedhorn / RSJ – Fibbers, York, 8th February 2017

Posted: 10 February 2017 in Live
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m struggling here. I know that people standing texting, Facebooking, taking selfies and shooting videos while dancing is immensely irritating for a band. It’s immensely irritating for other people in the audience, too. But I’m struggling to think of a scenario when it would ever be acceptable to harangue a woman in the front row with the line ‘get off your fucking phone, bitch!’. Or, indeed, to interrupt a lengthy and rousing right-on speech about inclusivity, about how it’s ‘bullshit’ to hate someone for being black or gay, etc., with ‘get your fucking hands in the air, bitches!’ (followed by a head-shaking ‘Shit, women!’). I’ll let that sit for a moment because I’m here for the supports, Raging Speedhorn and local monsters of noise, RSJ.

Arriving at 7:35 for a show with an advertised door time of 7:30, I’m a little surprised to find the place heaving and RSJ half-way through their thunderous set. But I’m able to worm my way to the front as they piledrive their way to the set’s climax, ‘Play it Again, Sam’. Look up ‘intensity’ in the dictionary, and you’ll probably find a picture of RSJ playing live.

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RSJ

Things have been a bit unsettled in camp Speedhorn recently, with Frank Reagan being forced to sit the tour out on doctors’ orders. And so RSJ’s Dan Cook is filling in, and despite playing back to back sets, his energy – and intensity – is unwavering. Cook looks comfortable and the dynamic between the two vocalists is on-point as they go all-out on the confrontation (and occasional off-the-cuff banter) which is integral to their shows. Building the tension by drenching the venue in howling, humming feedback, they erupt onto the stage, John Loughlin opening a bottle of beer with his teeth and spitting the cap to the floor before the band assume their places to commence the set with the customary menacing stare-out.

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Raging Speedhorn

These guys are good: they never fail to build their sets to a point of total frenzy. Slam-dancing breaks out during the second song, ‘Bring Out Your Dead’, but the band goad, harangue, hassle and coerce the audience, with both encouragement and abuse, and it works: the crowd get closer in, and they get moving. ‘Motörhead’ is utterly ball-busting, and Cooke’s menacing presence and lighting-rig climbing antics make for one hell of a show. By the end of their too-short set it’s mayhem.

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Raging Speedhorn

While they’re setting the stage for Skindred, the rammed crowd are getting down to Red Hot Chilli Peppers blaring from the PA. I’ve always detested them, and the funk groove of ‘Suck My Kiss’ epitomises everything I loathe about them. I’m no purist, but some crossovers simply aren’t meant to be, which is primarily the reason I’ve spent the entirety of Skindred’s career avoiding them. The Queen singalong orchestrated by some bozo near the front is beyond embarrassing: isn’t this supposed to be a metal gig? Queen aren’t even rock.

But Skindred’s Benji Webbe harps on endlessly about ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ during their set, which is every bit as vibrant as their reputation would suggest. However – and please, (s)top me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – if Brexit and the advent of Trump (and the success of Oasis, for that matter) tell us anything, it’s that popularity is no measure of artistic merit. The crowd lap it up. No, more than that: they go absolutely fucking ballistic.

I get the deal of being ‘in the moment’ at a live performance. It’s why I live for live music. Even when reviewing, I will, often, forget to take any notes and will return with only a handful of photos because I’ve been enjoying the music, the performance, the atmosphere, soaking it all up and immersing myself in the show from the same perspective as everyone else. I may be a music writer, or critic, but I’m a fan first and foremost. Skindred, I witnessed as a detached spectator. I simply could not get into the moment.

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Skindred

The union jack pegged to the mic stand set me on edge for a start. In the current climate, it’s a divisive symbol. For a band fronted by a big black guy to flout, it’s clearly intended as a signifier or unity and collectivism, of being black and British, but even so. There’s a certain incongruity there, just as there’s an incongruity in a Welsh metal band fronted by a guy sporting a pair of sequinned hammer pants. The trouble is, it’s neither challenging nor funny. It’s therefore not funny when Webbe plays the race card, taunting the audience – being a packed-out crowd who’ve paid £20 to see his band – with ‘black guy on stage… what’s he saying? I don’t understand what he’s saying’. I would say it was insulting and patronising the audience’s intelligence, but they’re all in the moment and aren’t taking a critical stance on this. It’s banter, innit?

Musically, from a detached, distant, and critical perspective, it’s a fucking mess. Based around a metal / reggae crossover more heinous than the funk / metal hell of RHCP, Skindred also drag in elements of hardcore punk, dancehall, jungle, ska, hip hop, drum and bass, dubstep, and they do so clumsily, their sub-RATM stylings, and with endless calls of ‘C’mon! C’mon!’ all ripped into some horrible stew which simmers the bones of House of Pain, Shaggy, and Funkadelic into a stinking, foamy broth.

Amidst the sea of ubiquitous metaller beards, the ratio of XY to XX chromosome is uncommonly high. But this makes the beaming grins and the willingness of the female segment of the audience to buy into and participate in the band’s crudely-executed agenda, laced with sexism and misogyny, all the more perplexing. Sure, the Newport Helicopter – a ritual which entails the majority of the audience, regardless of sex, removing their t-shirts and rotating them above their heads, regardless of the danger to those around them – is pitched as symbolic of unity and empowerment. But when you’ve got Webbe up there yelling ‘get them titties bouncing!’ and so forth, it sounds more like a guy playing the rock star and getting his rocks off by exploiting the crowd than a true moment of collective liberation. And, in context of everything else, it’s deeply unplasant.

RSJ and Raging Speedhorn were ace, though.

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