In Review: The Blackout w/ We Are The Ocean, Canterbury & Page 44 [Live]

I love the Welsh accent. It’s just automatically hilarious to me – whether that’s because of Gavin and Stacey or the recent influx in Welsh comedians, but it’s just a brilliant accent. Wales gets a bad reputation with the whole sheep-shagging banter, but it’s a lovely country full of lovely people! Of course, it’s made all the more better with the output of some brilliant Welsh bands. Tonight is the headlining tour for Merthyr Tydfil sextet The Blackout in support of their recently released third album Hope. The album got to #1 in the UK Rock Charts and charted at #27 in the overall UK Albums Chart – pretty good going for a band hit by financial troubles! Anyway, it’s a chilly Friday night in early November; the drizzle is flowing and the autumn misery has set in good and proper now. I’m on a Virgin train entering New Street Station in Birmingham city centre, which is probably only slightly less depressing than being on a London-Midland train. It’s 5.30pm and it’s already dark; a perfect setting for tonight’s hosts. As I walk through the subway towards the Birmingham O2 Academy and up the other side of the road, I can see the queue snake round the corner, for a good 300 metres. It’s obvious that tonight is going to be packed and packed it certainly is when I enter the tiny venue.

WATCH: The Blackout – Higher & Higher:
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First up tonight are local Brummie lads Page 44, who gained their place on this tour by winning the Red Bull Bedroom Jam competition. They have opened for such bands as Boy Kill Boy, Captain Phoenix and The Standards, so tonight is another large step for the pop-punks youths. Page 44 arrive on stage to a less than enthusiastic welcome at their hometown, but by the end of the first track, the predominantly adolescent crowd are lapping the happy-go-lucky rock. However, I’m more inclined to believe that the excessive screaming and clapping are more as a result of actually being allowed out than genuine enjoyment at Page 44’s set. Apart from the last track, “We Know The Way”, the rest of the set was completely unknown to me and I expect most of tonight’s audience. Asides from a little over-enthusiasm and the constant repetition of “and it goes a little bit like this …”, Page 44 produced a decent set of casually standard pop-punk rock tracks. [5]

Next up, we have another gentle style of friendly rock from Canterbury, another largely over-keen quartet, desperate to show off their talents. Whilst they do fare slightly better with the swelling crowd than Page 44, they fail to truly connect with the audience and produce a set that creates the electric energy needed for this type of music. Otherwise, it becomes a relatively dull, all-the-same set that is frankly just boring. They do have decent songs, such as “Peace and Quiet”, yet perhaps it’s because they are relatively unknown, or maybe they are having an average night. The crowd react in a more positive way than I do, however, jumping, shouting and raising hands in the air, the usual gig etiquette. Reading back, my review of Canterbury seems rather negative, but I enforce the fact that they were very good, and definitely a band of the future, but their show lacked the energy tonight. [5]

[quote]We Are The Ocean are on top form tonight, slashing the throat of every person in the tiny academy with their cut-throat hardcore.[/quote]The third act of this evening are MySpace heroes We Are The Ocean. After the enormous success of their second album Go Now and Live, the Essex quintet have finally been recognised as one of the best alternative hardcore rock bands in the business. The atmosphere completely changes as they come on stage, wondrous applause and ecstatic yelling obliterating my tympanic membranes. We are treated to a set chock-a-block full of wonderful second-album material, such as “What It Feels Like”, “The Waiting Room” and the delightful “Runaway”. We Are The Ocean are running riot, flaring up the circle pits, with energy bouncing from wall to wall, despite some early technical problems. At one point, vocalist Dan Brown splits the crowd, for what I thought would be a generic wall of death. However, he decides to jump the barrier and run all the way down to the back, right next to me! He sings a bit of a song, and then sprints back down before finishing the rest of a frankly brutally stunning set. We Are The Ocean are on top form tonight, slashing the throat of every person in the tiny academy with their cut-throat hardcore. It’s going to be a herculean task for the Blackout to top this one! [9]

A quick half an hour wait goes by slower than Christmas Eve, before the lights go down and the Welsh lads explode on stage with the furious “This Is Our Time”. The crowd immediately explodes upon impact: everyone is pushed forward in tense excitement, people are shouting, others are thrashing around off their faces. This is followed by “Ambition Is Critical” and “Save Our Selves (The Warning) from Hope, before we are treated to some lovely, hilarious Welsh banter between vocalists Sean Smith and Gavin Butler. One of the most heartfelt moments of the night in the track “It’s High Tide Baby!” pops up next, inspiring one of the loudest sing-alongs of the night, before “Never By Your Side” rolls into view. “The Devil Inside” is an anthemic rock sucker punch to the face, before “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from 2009’s The Best In Town is some hardcore hardcore (adjective and noun there, to avoid confusion). The Blackout’s latest and third single off Hope, “You’re Not Alone” is next, a poppy rock tune that is bound to be glued to your noggin for weeks on end. From here, Gavin and Sean split the crowd in two into Team Gavin and Team Sean (I was Team Sean Smith, of course); then proceed the massive shouts of “you know you’re not alone”, until they blast back into the chorus.

“Said & Done” provokes a huge and thankfully positive reaction from the crowd, before “The Storm” really brings the thunder. Now, my favourite track of the night, “Spread Legs, Not Lies” from the best Blackout album, their debut, We Are The Dynamite!. It’s truly stunning and a fitting prelude to “The Last Goodbye” and the emphatic “Hope (Scream It Out Loud)”. One of the best tracks of the night, “Children Of The Night” is met with a massive roar from the crowd, before “I’m A Riot? You’re A Fucking Riot!” causes a, urm, riot. The Blackout finish the night off with the rapturous “ShutTheFuckUppercut” and “Higher & Higher” to finally pummel each of the audience into the ground, as the headbanging energy dissipates into screams and yells of delight. [9]

1. This Is Our Time
2. Ambition Is Critical
3. Save Our Selves (The Warning)
4. It’s High Tide Baby!
5. Never By Your Side
6. The Devil Inside
7. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
8. You’re Not Alone
9. Said & Done
10. The Storm
11. Spread Legs, Not Lies
12. The Last Goodbye
13. Hope (Scream It Out Loud)
14. Children Of The Night
15. I’m A Riot? You’re A Fucking Riot!
16. ShutTheFuckUppercut
17. Higher & Higher[/pullquote_right]
Tonight is the night. The Blackout are absolutely outstanding. Not only do they provide truckloads of energy that is bouncing around like flubber (remember that awesome film?!), but their musical performance is equally superb. Each track is played note perfectly, guitarists James Davies and Matthew Davies are the perfect assistance to enigmatic frontmen Gavin Butler and Sean Smith. Perhaps, however, my favourite performance was from drummer Gareth “Snoz” Lawrence, a blur of hair and drum, constantly moshing along through the whole of tonight’s set. The way that the Blackout worked the crowd up, however, is truly inspirational for any aspiring band. At one point, Sean commanded the crowd to do the cheesiest dance move, for example, during one of the songs, whilst in another directing a mass headbanging spree. On top of this, the stage set-up was brilliant, flashing lights and several screens that showed a symbol, which by the end of the night I figured out spelled the letters TBO, or The Blackout. I think, anyway.

However, a few negative points to quickly go over, nothing is perfect after all. The main disappointment for me as a Blackout fan was actually the lack of material from We Are The Dynamite!, which is one of my favourite albums of all time. Whilst I realise that this tour is promoting Hope, I would have liked to have heard some older material. Another point that I was a little annoyed at was their insistence on everyone crouching to the ground to “jump the fuck up” – I’ve seen a few other bands do this, but unless I’m mistaken, this originated from Slipknot. It’s only minor, I know, but it annoys me when bands copy certain features of other live performances.

Cue the witty puns for a finalising conclusion: Page 44 didn’t quite manage to turn the page, and are unfortunately still stuck on the first chapter. Canterbury, although providing a reasonable performance, would perhaps have had better success playing to the Archbishop with their pleasant sound. We Are The Ocean flooded the audience in energy, drowning the crowd with their brand of magnificent hardcore. The Blackout, however, lit the place up; the epitome of hardcore alternative music with massive hooks, showmanship and basically, how to put on a great gig.

Photos by: Katja Ogrin
Words by: Alex Easton