The very idea of Fuelling the Fire Tour is fantastic; good bands and £10 tickets are a great sell. Each of the bands at the top end of this bill would command at least the ticket price, so the bargain hunters amongst this audience would struggle to pick better entertainment on a cold Wednesday night.
The O2 Academy Birmingham was packed to the rafters as London four-piece The Skints took to the stage; within a few bars the packed room was bouncing along to their futuristic reggae. This is an act that does not believe in standing still, they have steadily evolved their sound and performance style over almost a decade. There are still hints of the street snarl within the vocal delivery but the influence of traditional and contemporary reggae has created a far more individual sound and, ironically, a truer representation of the streets they come from. As the set progressed the bass lines got deeper, at points you could almost feel the bass rumbling past and ruffling hair styles and the room got hotter. The Skints are a fascinating band to watch, with three pronged vocal attacks varying between the urban snarl of Joshua, tight harmonies and saccharin sweetness from Marcia and the cleanest vocals from drummer Jamie. Perhaps the most eye catching aspect was the pile of instruments in front of Marcia creating the bulk of the musical backing but this was a full band performance and definitely a near perfect way to warm up an audience.
With the room suitably pumped Mariachi el Bronx filed out looking sharp in traditional dress. As the first note hit the audience was awash with smiles and fine dance moves. I suppose this is the power of Mariachi, or more likely the power of Matt Caughthran who can have an audience eating out of the palm of his hand with the deadly combo of charm, charisma and talent. Far from a gimmick, the band take Mariachi seriously and deliver it in such a tight package that it’s impossible to picture a time before you loved this Mexican tradition. As performers MEB were on form tonight, nothing was out of place and the audience lapped up each and every note with humble encouragement and gratitude between songs broadening smiles throughout. As the set drew to a close there was a truly wonderful atmosphere and in a venue warmed by body heat it almost felt like a Hispanic area of Los Angeles in the height of summer.
As Less Than Jake walked out to entrance music and smoke the audience hit fever pitch, suitably lubricated and with just the right amount of suspense, it was clear this was going to be huge. It was, as the band tore through tracks from their early works; the entire venue was full of nostalgia and a sense of fun. Then out of nowhere came the endorsements.
Okay, we all know this is a sponsored tour and that’s how the tickets are so affordable. We also get that Fireball is a cool company and thanks to them for getting this night sorted, but Is there really any need for the headline act to have to shout out your whiskey between every song?
It’s not too much of a worry, however, because the set list was incredible; like listening to a greatest hits album during which you also feel a decade younger. Presumably this is why Less Than Jake’s audience interaction had a slightly uncomfortable feel to it, nothing sinister just a few slightly misjudged remarks which were enough to prompt a cringe. However the passion and precision in which this set was delivered created such a memorable show. Standing in a sweaty room on a Wednesday night singing along to classic noughties ska punk should be a Wednesday ritual.
Fuelling The Fire Tour 2016 continues to Brixton (October 6th), Newcastle (October 8th), Glasgow (October 9th), Manchester (sold out, October 10th) and Bournemouth (October 11th).
Tickets available, here.