All images credited to Nathan Roach.
Stone Sour returned to the O2 Academy in Brixton for the first time in three years. It’s been an excruciating wait as they seemed to have hit all the other corners of the earth twice before gracing Blighty with their presence. Still, they seemed to be aware of their transgressions as they were apologising for their prolonged absence for almost as long as they were playing alternative rock anthems.
Firstly, the night opened with sleaze-rock outfit The Pretty Reckless. The band spent their first two albums living up to their name by selling their music on a heady mix of sex, drugs and old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, rebelling against the current resurgence of corporate censorship in creative industries and frontwoman Taylor Momsen’s own wholesome image as a child actress. With their newest record, Who You Selling For, they still conjure images with anti-puritanical blasphemy and prove they aren’t above an adolescent’s attitude towards the shock value of swearing, but instead of using those tools to worship the party lifestyle, they take a more introspective approach and question their role in it and how it’s affecting them emotionally and physically. Momsen’s voice seems more tortured and melancholy than usual, really bringing the themes of uncertainty and regret to the fore.
It gives their set an air of legitimacy that they’ve clearly been striving for. They lean into blues and country rhythms a lot more often, taking the pedal off of the overdriven distortion. It’s a smart move as their overreliance on the more taboo subjects of their subculture has often prohibited them from being recognised as a legit rock ‘n’ roll band, and meant that the songwriting duo of Taylor Momsen and Ben Phillips often go unrecognized for their talents at penning lyrics and making melodies. But the best part of the set most definitely comes as Taylor recognises the inherent silliness of engaging in crowd participation as she can’t help but laugh as she waves the mic from one side of the room to the other while trying to get the crowd to sing along. It’s a humanising moment that actually allows rock’s broodiest blonde to open up and let her audience see past the carefully crafted Stevie Nicks-esque persona.
They are a great compliment to their hosts Stone Sour, as they too are a band in the middle of an identity transmutation. They open their set the same way they do on their new album, Hydrograd, with a faux-Eastern-European accent greeting us and calling us “bastard”. It’s an amusing way to open a gig and presents us with a statement of intent that reinforces the focus of their latest release. Stone Sour really want to bring the roll back into rock. They are very interested in rectifying the sins of all those bands taking themselves too seriously with dour and moody metal, a sin Stone Sour (and especially Corey Taylor) has had a strong hand in keeping alive this century.
They bring all the party tricks to keep the mood light, a confetti canon, pyro (the sparkly kind) and Josh Rand even breaks out the Barbie-pink guitar. Corey looks genuinely happy to be there and seems sincere when he calls this town his second home. Admittedly, living in a metropolis like London helps to swallow these platitudes and I’m glad I’m not seeing them in another city to hear him contradict himself. He does, however, punctuate almost every song with a small speech either thanking the crowd or introducing us to his bandmates. He does this over and over again and it puts little road bumps in the way of their otherwise relentless momentum.
The crowd are electric throughout and Stone Sour keep it that way. Even when they lay off the accelerator to slow the action down, they keep the audience engaged by encouraging singalongs. They love the band, and Corey gets welcomed like a conquering hero. It’s a fantastically entertaining night, with a couple of pacing issues, but the band never allow the night to get stale or dull and they keep adding new layers and dimensions with every track. Awesome stuff.
Stone Sour are touring in Europe throughout December and return to the UK in June, 2018.