Plus: Bloodsimple, Black Tide.
With its early 1900’s architecture and gigantic clock tower that can be seen for miles around, Southampton’s Guildhall stands as arguably one of the most unique and distinctive venues the UK has to offer. Add to this the fact that less than two hours before the doors swung open this evening, the building was filled with busy workers finishing off their day – the result of the venue doubling as the city’s council offices.
As hundreds huddle by the front doors, a short walk from the tour buses that hold tonight’s headliners, Miami quartet Black Tide set the pace with a 25-minute set of distinctly 80’s hard rock. Despite their tender ages (front man Gabriel is just 15, while bass player Zakk stands as the group’s elder statesman at barely 18) they create a racket that defies their years, leaning heavily on 80’s influences such as Megadeth and Motley Crue. The likes of Black Abyss display a penchant for writing genuinely catchy yet cleverly crafted choruses, and despite a few technical glitches that rear their head during the first two songs, their performance tonight is enough to suggest that with a bit of hard touring and some much needed experience, this is a band capable of bigger things.
By the time New Yorkers Bloodsimple appear, the aforementioned huddlers are firmly inside, filling the cavernous room with a genuine sense of excitement as well as bodies. Starting their set with new song Ride With Me – a three-minute-plus concoction of spoken word vocals and subtle guitar atmospherics – the quintet make what appears to be a suicidal start. Until, that is, they blast through a thunderous rendition of the mammoth-riffed Red Harvest, lending the entire floor an appearance similar to that of a trampoline. With barely a second’s rest they carry themselves with an energy that seemingly knows no boundaries; front man Tim Williams spending much of the set perched atop the monitors and commanding the crowd with ease. “How did it sound out there tonight?” he’ll ask afterwards, stuffing his freshly dirtied clothes into a nearby rucksack. “I heard Southampton is a pretty tough crowd to win over. They either love you or hate you. Hopefully we did pretty well tonight.”
Tonight, though, is about one band: Avenged Sevenfold. As the first few punters squeezed through the doors shortly after 7pm, most wasted little time in sprinting firmly towards the barrier, desperate to secure the best (and also most uncomfortable) spot in the house. Others embraced their friends in excitement, sprinting across the floor and enjoying the vast space that would soon be filled with over 2,000 people. So it comes as little surprise that, as the lights dip and the haunting organs of Critical Acclaim begin to slither out of the speakers, the scream that goes up is powerful enough to knock you flat on your arse from a mile away.
Entering one by one – culminating with vocalist M. Shadows standing centre stage, a mic stand held high above his head – it’s the start of what will soon be known as one of the best gigs Southampton has seen in some time. And, tonight, there are literally a hundreds reasons as to why. There’s the explosive, creepingly intense opening riff of The Beast And The Harlot. There’s the crowd-led rendition of Gunslinger that sees thousands of hands pierce the sky. There’s even an impromptu run through the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK, with Shadows changing the words to “I am Johnny Christ” in tribute to the band’s frequently picked on bassist.
It’s this moment in particular that signals the biggest change in Avenged Sevenfold, because what stands out above all else is that tonight, this is a band playing with smiles on their faces. A band that for the first time in two years look as though they’re enjoying being onstage, rather than treating it as a chore. As they treat the crowd to a closing run through the much-loved Unholy Confessions, it’s a happiness and excitement that has clearly transferred over to each and every person present, filling the street outside with smiles and squeals of excitement. A sign, you sense, that tonight may well be the start of something even bigger.
Photos by Graham Pentz @ G-Tizzle Photography