For my first experience of Bristol’s O2 Academy, I got tickets to see Billy Talent on their Afraid Of Heights headline tour. After dropping a whopper of an album this summer, the lads have been touring the world and sharing their anti-Donald Drumpf political rampages with huge audiences to great success.
Supported by Young Guns, who somewhat disappeared after a heap of radio play a few years back, the O2 Academy was full from the moment I arrived. It’s unusual: so many gig-goers arriving in time for the support band, a fairly balanced mix of men and women, young and old amongst the crowd. But that’s what Billy Talent, and rock music in general really, does. It brings people together with united passion, emotion and energy.
Young Guns put on a decent show, however it was clear their only real crowd-warming track was their final one of their set, and most famous, Bones. They’re a band who have been around for a while but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, with numerous albums that have slipped past unaware listeners.
The O2 Academy in Bristol has a great set up with steps for short people like myself to take advantage of and a short but wide crowd space which allows everyone to get a decent view. Starting off with the screamer that is Devil In A Midnight Mass, Billy Talent took to the stage like a fireball of energy. They went on to play a stream of classics including Pins And Needles, and a selection from their Greatest Hits album such as Devil On My Shoulder, River Below, Rusted From the Rain, Surrender and Surprise Surprise.
Heart-wrenchingly, Billy Talent went on to play White Sparrows – a track about grief very rarely performed live – in memory of their friend Nick Alexander who was killed in the terror attacks in Paris last November. It was a memorable and emotional performance which I’m sure will stay in the memories of those who attended the concert.
As the show progressed, frontman Ben Kowalewicz commanded the stage with his jumps, lunges and general workout of a performance. The crowd grew just as excited for tracks from the latest album, including Afraid Of Heights, Louder Than The DJ, The Crutch, Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats and Big Red Gun, as they did for the older hits. Ben paused between a few tracks to mention the “shit that [our] country is going through” (Brexit, if you weren’t aware) and how “the States is just ugh”, culminating in a speech that dedicated Viking Death March to the misogynistic Donald “fucking” Drumpf and had the crowd roaring.
“I believe in good people. I believe that good people will always triumph over those motherfuckers,” Ben announced. He later thanked the crowd for coming out to support the rock music in their area, which was a nice touch. I’m a strong believer that talking to the crowd about real stuff is a great way to build a connection and command a reaction, which Ben did wonderfully.
Tying the night to an astounding finish, the band returned to the stage for Try Honesty, Fallen Leaves and Red Flag, perhaps three of the most notable songs the band has ever produced. Afterwards, in a brief conversation with Ben he explained the difficulties in putting together a well-rounded set but I assured him, they pulled it off and they’d better be coming back soon.
Also, Ian D’Sa claims his hair only takes 20 minutes to master, who would have thought?