The Blackout

support Hyro Da Hero + The Swellers
author NB date 13/04/11 venue The Old Fire Station, Bournemouth, UK

The Old Fire Station in Bournemouth is a night-club. It's almost perfectly triangular in shape, with the stage in one of its more acute corners, funneling a concert-goer's attention towards the action. On the edge opposite the stage is a capacious bar. It sounds like the perfect venue for a medium-sized rock gig. However, the area which is designated for the audience is not so generously proportioned as the bar. The pen which contains the stranded light and sound technicians occupies a large part of the floor; the remaining edges of the room are taken up by raised, railed platforms of booth-seating and tables; and half of what's left is a confusing labyrinth of ramps and railings leading to these. What remains of the floor - the actual pit area - is therefore large enough for probably around 150 people to stand in whilst the rest of the 200 or so spectators have to make do with whatever they happen to be on top of. God help them if The Chariot ever play here... but tonight's visitor is The Blackout's "Hope" tour.

Hyro da Hero

First up we have a rapper. From Texas. I've never heard of him, which might be because I haven't been looking in the general genre of rap, but Hyro Da Hero is nominated as best international newcomer in the Kerrang Awards 2011. According to the info on his site he "doesn't follow the zeitgeist" and "is about to flip rap upside down, inside out and all around". Well let me give you my prognosis regarding that: I think it will take more than a few guitar lines atop generic rap tracks to flip anything in any direction.

It's not much of a novelty for The Blackout to bring odd support bands on their tours. Last time I saw them, in 2009, they had dragged Hollywood Undead along for the ride; in fact, AP warned me that Hyro might sound similar to HU, though I'm happy report that this is not the case. Actually The Blackout have a much more solid connection with Hyro: he's on their new album, performing a small vocal role in the song "Higher and Higher". Perhaps he's hoping this will allow him to get his foot in the door with the young Blackout fan base. I wouldn't be surprised: as was the case in 2009, these kids will move to anything. Indeed, when Da Hero himself takes to the stage and gets going with his first song, the crowd is quickly filled with enthusiastic jumping and open hands sprout up everywhere. This first song is "Man in My City". It's a pretty traditional hip-hop track, backed with a slow synthesized rhythm and filled with tales of hardship and hierarchy in the projects. Afterwards our frontman expresses his genuine puzzlement and admiration that the audience is attempting to mosh to rap music.

Hyro isn't the only member of this band though; he's backed by ex-members of Blood Brothers and At The Drive In / The Mars Volta and things begin to look up when the band breaks into something slightly new. "Sleeping Giants", judging by the vocal style and more adventurous guitar work, sounds like an attempt at emulating Rage Against the Machine and features lyrics such as "fuck the cops; fuck the world; fuck the people in it". Nonetheless, even though tonight's set list has probably been selected especially for this audience, the rock elements take way too much of a back seat for my taste and, probably, for Hyro to even stand out from his own genre. Aside from the weird guitar rhythm and drum fills needlessly shoehorned into the middle of songs such as "We Still Popular", most of the rest of the material is reliant on synth melodies and synth drums in much the same way as all modern rap and hip-hop. Disregarding these complaints however, Hyro, pacing back and forth across the front of the audience with typical hip-hop swagger and affectations, does a decent job of warming up the crowd.

6

The Swellers

Michigan punk-rockers The Swellers are quite new to Europe; their first visit was around this time last year, still touring their acclaimed 2009 album "Ups and Downsizing". This time they're bringing over more of the same but with a sneak peek of their upcoming record: "Good For Me". So, although it's not such an eyebrow-raising choice of support, neither is it surprising that the band gets an initially tepid response from the crowd. All in attendance are unanimously nonplussed when vocalist / guitarist Nick asks if anyone was at The Swellers' gig in this very town not four months ago. It seems like Blackout fans like post-hardcore and rap and nothing in between. Who'd have thought it? I feel rather embarrassed for the band when they start doling out praise for the audience's modest energy levels. "You guys are awesome" they lie, "we don't say that everywhere we go...". You can't say things like that in the YouTube era!

Luckily this bullshit pantomime suddenly begins to ring true because these guys just don't take no for an answer. Nick's wide-eyed, friendly demeanour, mixed with some passionately performed and unrelentingly up-beat punk-rock, infect the room with the atmosphere of the high-school house parties from American teen movies. This is sustained even when the band head into uncharted waters with the single from their new album, "The Best I Ever Had" (which has subsequently been put on their MySpace page). If this track is anything to go by the new album will provide more of the same of what proved so popular on U&D. It's not pushing many boundaries but it's instantly catchy, and that's all you need to make a good first impression on an unfamiliar crowd. In response, a wide mosh-pit engulfs what little flat ground exists in this venue and the set finishes up on a high with "Fire Away" and "2009".

The Blackout

By this point the audience is sprawled all over the place. The pit is carnage, the ramps are crammed and along the edges of the room eager onlookers are standing meerkat-like on railings, tables and the backs of benches. The scene looks like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Nonetheless, I have a good view of proceedings because I'm taller than most people in attendance. You see, the average age of The Blackout's fan base is pretty low. In fact, I'm pretty sure the man standing behind me is someone's dad acting as chaperone, but then again, these guys probably think I'm someone's dad too and I'm only 21. Regardless of age, it's clear that everyone is here for the same thing and that thing takes to the stage after a seemingly endless wait (apparently the band were too busy playing Xbox on the tour bus to notice the baying crowd). When they do appear Sean Smith is last to emerge and his new image, complete with moustache and tiny studded leather jacket, makes him look like a camper version of Freddie Mercury.

Finally the music starts and the revellers are already moving to the first track from the new album: "Ambition is Critical". The album, "Hope", was released only a few days before and naturally everyone there has already downloaded it. It's received positive press: Hyro wasn't the only one in Kerrang's sights; The Blackout are nominated for best British band, best album and best video in this year's awards. This time the music is perhaps slightly less up-beat but just as catchy and anthemic. As usual, some songs, such as "This Is Our Time", border on the rock / post-hardcore where others border on the pop-rock, like the unoriginally titled "The Last Goodbye". While these numbers don't necessarily do much for the re-play value of the album, they are a sure recipe for a great live show. Even the songs you've never heard before are instantly infectious and, although only four out of the seventeen tracks played tonight are from "Hope", they go down a storm.

The stage show is as good as ever with Sean and Gavin, the dual vocalists, pumping out the clean and growled layers of the choruses in theatrical style. However, there's a third element to The Blackout's show which is their casual banter between songs. In a pleasing contrast with the attitude of The Swellers, Sean and Gavin engross themselves a friendly battle of insults with people in the crowd. They go on to list all the towns in the UK with "mouth" in their name and claim to like them better than Bournemouth, stirring up the sense of rivalry in the minds of the pitsters. Sean even attempts an impression of Bring Me the Horizon's Oli Sykes. "Bournemouth's only got the best waterpark in t'world", he exclaims in his best Sheffield accent. It's interesting to hear a Welshman taking the piss out of a Sheffield accent in front of a crowd of southerners, but it gets a laugh. You see, a Blackout gig is only part catchy post-hardcore nonsense, it's also part stand-up comedy nonsense. "Take your shirts off!" requests Sean, "preferably the ladies; it's always the men", and a girl in the audience cheerfully complies. "Ah! Child!," warns Gavin. "How old are you?" Sean asks in a worried voice. "Fifteen!". "Woah! Okay, show's off. Let's get out of here..." he says, and announces that this will regrettably be the band's last gig before they're sent to prison. He starts singing the lyrics to "I'm The Leader Of The Gang" by Gary Glitter, a notorious paedophile. Good times.

The penultimate song of the evening is another new one: "Higher and Higher", which, you might recall, features Mr. Hero. He dutifully leaps onto the stage and thereafter looks a bit redundant and awkward. The band end with "Save Our Selves" and throw in the rather overused sit-down-and-jump-up routine. In the end, tonight's long set-list more than makes up for the wait, and the atmosphere of a casual gathering of friends rather than a pretentious spectacle makes up another pretty flawless show. If you ever get a chance to see this band, don't pass it up as they never fail to give you a memorable night.

9

Setlist:

  • Ambition Is Critical
  • Children Of The Night
  • The Fire
  • Murder in the Make-Believe Ballroom
  • Prepare for a Wound
  • It's High Tide Baby!
  • Said & Done
  • Spread Legs, Not Lies
  • Hope (Scream It Out Loud)
  • Top Of The World
  • We're Going To Hell... So Bring The Sunblock
  • Never By Your Side
  • This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
  • I'm A Riot? You're A Fucking Riot!
  • -- Encore --
  • ShutTheFuckUppercut
  • Higher & Higher
  • Save Our Selves (The Warning)

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