NO matter how well-versed one is on the subject of heavy rock/metal, there’s always going to be bands that slip through the cracks; ones that you vaguely know have quite a respectable back catalogue of albums, but you may only know one or two songs from them.
Thursday night’s gig in Limelight 1 comprised of not one, but two such bands: Alien Ant Farm and SOiL. The fact that the gig was upgraded from LL2 to LL1 is testimony to the fact that both bands have large and enthusiastic fan bases, but there was also a definite sense of curiosity amongst many of the patrons who knew the ‘big’ songs and were willing to check out each band’s entire set to see if there was more to them.
Chicago duo Local H opened proceedings with their reverb-heavy, grungy guitar rock, and soon had the crowd warmed up admirably; all were impressed in equal parts with both the quality of their music and the fact that it came from just two people.
With their easy banter and catchy tunes, it’s clear to see why their social media ‘likes’ are rising at a terrific pace.
Such is the reaction from the crowd when SOiL hit the stage that you could be led to think that they were the headliners, or at the very least that this was a co-headlining tour.
After an intro which features snippets of Rob Zombie, Sam Kinison’s ‘Wild Thing’ and their own smash hit ‘Halo’, they stride onstage and immediately fire into opening track ‘Break Me Down’. It soon becomes apparent that they are as potent and passionate as ever, despite this being their twenty-first year together – at times it’s a close call as to who is most excited for them to be there: the crowd or the band themselves!.
“How the f**k you doin’ tonight…it’s been such a long time!” enthuses frontman Ryan McCombs, who remains wreathed in smiles throughout the band’s entire set. With a voice like Jack Daniels and honey, he is also funny and engaging, chatting amiably to the crowd about such subjects as the hair caught in his mouth (It’s from his head, don’t go there), the fact that the previous band’s setlist is still taped to the stage which keeps confusing the hell out of him (lol), and how grateful he is for everyone coming out to see them play.
In between the banter, they play an absolute blinder of a set at full pelt and full volume, with tracks such as ‘The Hate Song’, ‘Pride’ and their rocktastic cover of Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’ getting an airing; the latter performs the task of warming the crowd up so well that every band should do it.
The crowd respond with unadulterated joy, roaring along to the lyrics, hanging on McComb’s every word and headbanging with abandon.
Their enthusiasm is rewarded in spades when McCombs exits the stage and performs their biggest hit ‘Halo’ from WITHIN the audience, handing his microphone to several delirious fans and turning the song into the ultimate in audience participation. Crazy, exuberant and unforgettable - particularly for the lucky throng the surrounded him – SoiL prove tonight that they are a cut above the rest, and more than just ‘that’ song.
As prompt as Big Ben (they even use an alarm clock intro), Alien Ant Farm take to the stage at their allotted time with a steely glint in their eyes, seemingly determined to prove that they, too, are more than just a ‘one song’ band.
Right from their opening track ‘Bad Morning’ it seems that they are: all thunderous, thrashy, wailing rock, it’s also unexpectedly dark, and far from the pop punk scamps they appear as in the ‘Smooth Criminal’ video.
Vocalist Dryden Mitchell is also a dab hand at a bit of audience banter: “What’s up Northern Ireland?!” he greets the crowd, before they play ‘Movies’, which prompts a huge singalong, not to mention a bit of internal organ rearrangement from the lowest-tuned bass guitar you’ve ever heard.
He genuinely seems to enjoy chatting to the crowd and has them eating out of his hand right from the start as he thanks everyone for making the choice to come and see them tonight, talks a bit about the history of the band and certain songs and asks if everyone is having a good time, all in his trademark rambling, slightly husky voice.
One of the loudest cheers of the night comes when he dedicates ‘Attitude’ to the crowd, his mother, and the sadly departed Chester Bennington. With its snarling, whirling riff and inclusive lyrics (“you are all welcome here”), it’s a powerful moment that the more, ahem, inebriated amongst the crowd may have missed; luckily there’s a scrum of hardcore fans in front of the stage that hear every word and respond with emotion and gratitude.
For the curious among the audience, there’s a gratifying range of influences woven through the band’s music, from the obvious (pop punk) to the interesting (reggae, blues) to the downright startling (the bassline in ‘Glow’ is pure Steely Dan ‘Reelin’ in the Years’).
They also, surprisingly to some, seem to be channelling the Deftones throughout; in fact, ‘Deftones do pop punk’ would be a pretty apt, if rather simplistic, description of them, should you ever require one.
‘Wish’ wraps up the main part of their set with a staccato beat and low, low bass that you can feel in your throat.
After a few minutes they reappear, launching their encore with ‘Sticks and Stones’ and finally, of course, their boisterous cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, which practically has the crowd swinging from the ceiling and busting out their highest pitched “woo!”s; it’s truly a joy to behold.
As the crowd file out into the cold Belfast night, it’s clear that each band has gained new fans based on all of their music, as well as sating the appetites of their long-time fans who already knew how brilliant they were.
Having one song that towers over the rest of your back catalogue can be burdensome; tonight (and undoubtedly for the rest of the tour) both SOiL and Alien Ant Farm surmounted the challenge admirably.
Review by Melanie Brehaut
Pictures by Darren McVeigh