Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
So, brother Waldorf is being held in detention at work, big job all hands-on deck sort of thing, so, alone again, I set off for darkest Birmingham just as the rain starts. For once it’s an uneventful journey and I arrive at the venue with an hour still to go before the doors. A good job as I spend the majority of this time trying to sort my ‘Clean Air Zone’ charge. It’s all been updated and they’re running a ‘BETA’ system online, needless to say its rubbish, and after several failed attempts I accept defeat and go and join the queue to get in.
A smooth transaction at the box office and I’m in to an empty Academy 1.
Up first we have The Raven Age. Yes, this is the band that was formed in 2009 by former member Dan Wright and still current guitarist George Harris (Steve’s Son). They’re no slouch’s when it comes to delivering their powerful style of Heavy Metal.
They have obviously supported the mighty Iron’s, on the Book of Souls World tour in 2016, along with British Lion, Tremonti, Anthrax and Killswitch Engage. Tonight, adds Godsmack to that formidable list.
They released the self-titled EP in 2014 and released their debut long player in 2017. This was followed up in 2019 by the latest offering, ‘Conspiracy’
Having seen the band earlier this year when they toured with Tremonti I know that they have a great stage presence, sadly let down by the lack of lighting, no doubt tonight will be no different!
They hit the stage on time and, yes, it’s dark! Grrrrrr!
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ kicks the night off, its soothing intro soon drops into a veritable banger of a track. Matt James is up front delivering a powerful voice, as more smoke curls around the stage, the band dig in hard and heavy, the crowd are already on it as the horns are flying. We seem to have a partisan crowd in tonight. Matt Cox’s growled vocal is adding another dimension to this opener from 2019’s ‘Conspiracy’.
Gentry and Harris’s slick guitar work push this one forward into ‘Salem’s Fate’ which goes back to 2017’s ‘Darkness Will Rise’ album . It’s military snare cracking hard as the guitars riff over the top, James’s vocal is soft before the song, again drops into a powerhouse of double kick drum and a soaring ‘new’ vocal. Another banger of a tune. Gentry and Harris share the stage as they stroke out a melliferous lick or two. Jai Patel’s drumming is stunning as the breakdown is full of guitar harmony and his stunning frenetic footwork.
A clever set list see’s the albums alternated as we now go back to ‘Conspiracy’ for ‘Seventh Heaven’. The riffs are fast flying as this one tries to rearrange your face. The heads are down and nodding, as this song smashes out.
White lights fan around a dark stage, James has his mic stand up and points to the crowd, backlit. Getting anything worth-while for the first three will be an editing challenge indeed. The musician ship is exemplary, as this song continues to batter your senses. The crowd are liking this as the horns up would indicate. It would seem that The Raven Age are connecting with the crowd, which goes nuts when James asks them if they’re up for Godsmack!
‘Angel in Disgrace’ crashes out and the heads are down again as this one gallops along like a runaway Grand National Winner. The thudding of the drums and darker guitar riffs bookend James’s’ hard vocal. The snare slam’s from Patel’s kit echoing around the venue as I walk to the soundboard. There is plenty of head banging going on as I squeeze my way past the bar and the busy merch stand. The lights seem to have improved as from back here I can now see the band’s faces.
The set concludes with the awesome ‘Fleur De Lis’, from ‘Conspiracy’. Oh My God what a foot workout. The double kick drum is fast, 32nd notes, yes, it’s that fast. The bass delivery from Cox is thudding, he’s bent over again rocking hard. The guitars are swopping sides as they riff out majestically. Gentry is on it as his guitar screams along, the licks tight and deliberate. This is a great set closer and the crowd seem to agree judging by the cheers and whistles as they finish and salute the crowd.
The Raven Age are : Matt James – Vocals, Matt Cox – Bass, Tommy Gentry – Guitar, George Harris – Guitar, Jai Patel – Drums.
It was a stunning opening set let down by the lack of lighting for the band, there must be a health and safety issue with the guys not being able to see their way around the stage. At least they weren’t totally blinded by front light as there wasn’t any! Tour Manager’s out there need to realise that if folk want to just listen to the band they’ll stop at home and listen to Spotify, part of live music is enjoying the visual aspect of the show, whether it’s a support slot or headlining, ok rant over
After the usual stage tidy up and re-set, we are good to go for the main turn, GODSMACK. An American Rock band formed in 1995. They have seven studio albums to their credit and another, the eight is ear marked for release in February 2023, entitled Lighting Up the Sky.
Godsmack was formed after Sully Erna decided he wanted to front a new band instead of playing the drums, something he’d done for more than 20years. The band, called The Scam quickly became Godsmack.
The name is reputed to come from the fact the then drummer, Tommy Stewart, had a cold sore, Erna was making fun of the fact and referred to it as a ‘god smack’, the name stuck. They were aware of the Alice in Chains song but deny that was from where it came. In 2002 Erna was asked to write a song for Dwight Johnson’s (The Rock) new film, The Scorpion King. That being ‘I Stand Alone’ which is now a staple in any Godsmack set.
Starting the set off albeit slightly later than advertised, we get the Beastie Boys Mix Master Mike projected onto the backdrop. Here he introduces a Queen inspired ‘We Will Rock You’ mega mix. The familiar drum salvo driving the piece along which goes down well with the crowd. This finishes and the Godsmack back drop is revealed to great cheers, the lighting is beautiful as Erna and the band kick of with 2018’s ‘When Legends Rise’. Erna greets the crowd as he starts into this great tune.
The crowd are singing along as Erna grinds out this opener, the lighting is flashing around as Erna asks the crowd to show him their hands, they’re up and rocking. ‘Keep Away’ from the 1998, self-titled reworking of the first self-released album ‘All Wound Up’ of 1997. Has the crowd bouncing. The hard, dirty riff floods out, as Erna has a step to one side and head bang’s as he rips the intro out. Again, he requests the crowd to sing, and they are on it, singing back to a smiling Erna.
Bass player Robbie Merrill is teasing the crowd as he hammers out a destructive bass riff. Erna is up in the corners of the stage talking to the crowd as Rombola rips out the scorching solo. ‘Cryin’ Like A Bitch’ is up third from 2010’s ‘The Oracle’. Another bombastic intro as Erna faces Larkin and they smash into this bouncing anthem together.
Erna delivers with eyes closed as he dances back and forth behind his microphone. The lighting goes through the colours of the rainbow as Erna again asks for hands up. As this song finishes Erna addresses the crowd and asks when he was last in Birmingham? He asks if everybody here is in a good mood as ‘Unforgettable’ has the crowd singing along. As the song crashes along the guitars are pulsing and the crowd are chanting back with the “Whoa-ahs”.
The song thunders along as Erna hits the voice box and makes some sweet music (sic) bathed in blue light. He pauses and the crowd cheer him on more. This is the song on which the video features school kids and ends with a large number of drummers playing along.
This flows quickly into ‘Awake’ from the 2000 release of the same name. Another dark and brooding number that is hard hitting, blinders are killing the night vision as they flash at an epilepsy inducing frequency.
The Wah Wah solo scorches from Rombola who is stood statuesque on stage left.
This finishes and we get a screaming engine sound; this can only mean ‘1000hp’ from 2014. As the heavy intro rips out. The song is stopped. Erna remarks that the crowd is so quiet its driving him crazy, he asks if he should go and hang out at the bar, he requests a couple of shots of tequila as the crowd aren’t bothered about the music. The crowd erupts and he responds, “Shall we play some more”? and the band pick-up from where they stopped. The industrial riffs crash out as he gets the crowd onboard and they’re singing back hard.
Larkin is animated behind the kit, his arms seemingly tied in knots as he keeps perfect timing.
The lights strobe as Tony Rombola is introduced and he cracks out a repetitive riff tied into Larkins drums. As Erna sings “turn it up” the horns and fists are out, Rombola squeezes out a sonically charged riff as the lights pulse around the set.
A Jews harp effect cries out from the stage which is now bathed in blue. Erna, picked out from behind by white spots, recognises the balcony; he didn’t know they were there. He mocks the bar staff over to stage left, who seem to be light on customers, he says ”are you guys bored over there at the bar since all these people like us more than alcohol, if I had my way, I’d be there doing shots of tequila with ya, just saying”.
Erna goes on about the band Godsmack being full of male testosterone. “we need to acknowledge some people in the room” he says. He mocks the guys with muscles spending hrs in the gym getting great bodies to only work in a call centre or a hot dog stand.
Beards and muscle’s”, “we need to give you a purpose”, “Guys don’t forget about the ladies tonight”, “where are the ladies”? the place explodes. “We’re going to make it look like a rock show”, “get these girls up on your shoulders”, up they go “hey nice titties” he shouts as a girl removes her top as soon as she is airborne.
This leads in to ‘Something Different’ again, from the 1000hp album of 2014. The song is about your significant other popping up and making your life a misery, one full of drama. Erna encourages the guys some more to get the girls up on there shoulders as he dedicates this song the ladies. He asks them to think about that one asshole that’s made their life a misery, he points out that one girl is looking like she is sitting on the shoulders of her ass hole.
He asks for the lights to go off and to light the room up with the cell phones which they do. The crowd join in with the singing. Arms, fists, horns and the girls are all up in the air as the smoke-filled stage erupts with the band and coloured lights.
It’s looking like a fucking rock show” screams Erna. He encourages the crowd with the “Whoah’s” he remarks “wow you guys are really in this tonight” as he joins in the singing. The crowd carrying on as he riffs over the top. Another show of hands helps bring the song to a finish amidst cheers and claps.
‘Voodoo’ and ‘Whatever’ follow from the 1998 album Godsmack album. The almost medieval chant of Voodoo is broken with a sinister staccato guitar lick that’s repeatedly wrapped around a dark drum riff, it pulses forward dark and menacing, the crowd are moving as one to this hypnotic tune as they chant back on command, the song slows to a finish and the crowd again cheer enthusiastically.
With a crash of drums, Erna, is telling us “he’s gotta see who’s over the stage right side of the venue” he makes a reference to a bar being closed but it’s an area of the venue that folk are sat in. He says “depending on how you react is whether we come back out and play some more”, he immediately spots someone in the crowd and says “ hey that mother fucker over there looks like a little Dave Grohl”, and now everyone stares at him.
The drums thud about in the background. He makes a reference to Japan. He asks for the crowd to count out 1-2-1234 as the familiar ‘Whatever’ riff smacks us in the face. Erna is still without his guitar as he wanders around singing. He asks for the crowd to sing out and they do. The sharp guitar, sounding like a broken car horn rips out throughout this one. Bass player Merrill is double bicep posing as the song roars along. The crowd is now a sea of clapping hands. the usual chant and return follows with Erna offering “Scoobie snacks” to encourage the crowd to try harder. “England, great fucking job tonight” shouts Erna as the song finishes.
With an Explorer around his neck he asks “you guys wanna hear a new song”? “do you guys know we have a new record coming out”, “been a while”, “not our fault, fucking covid”. “We put out a new single called Surrender”.
The clapping starts, hard “Oh England is in the fucking house”. “if we play this song will you promise me that everyone in England will lose their fucking minds” the crowd cheer back to the affirmative. With an extended guitar riff the song starts and the crowd are singing along, they have done their homework.
The song bounces, hard and brutal. Erna’s voice is on the edge of break up as he scowls the lyric to a rocking Academy 1. He enquires how they’re doing as the riffage intensifies. The stage is bathed in yellow and white spots as he does so. The song builds to a strong finish of scorching guitar and strobing lights. “thank you very fucking much” Erna screams as the song finishes and the band quickly exit the stage.
A very quick break allows the piano to be moved onto the stage for Erna’s return. He sits and starts playing, he says “ok, we’re back, a short little break, a drink, a face wipe. We have a new album out in Feb 2023 called ‘Lighting Up the Sky’, it’ll be available on you favourite music platforms and where ever else they sell the damn things” “ I wanted to focus on, you thirsty?”, he stops what he was saying and launches his bottle of water into the crowd followed by the cap.
if you know it, sing along” he goes into ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ the John Lewis Xmas add from 2014. He says “what? It’s a great song it could be a hit”. He introduces the next song by mentioning his charity SCARS, link on the GODSMACK website. Its designed to help prevent suicides, bullying etc. The song ‘Under Your Scars’ is dedicated to the fallen including Cornell, Bennington and the UK’s Amy Winehouse.
This turns out to be an emotion packed song as the Academy sings along word for word, united in one voice. The guitar of Rombola, cry’s out like a tormented soul. He asks for the crowd to sing the whoah’s and the roof is lifted as he accompanies the venue on the piano. “Yeah England Man” he retorts, “Sing it for everyone we lost, for those who suffer, for those that need help, sing it for them” the crowd comply. The band join back into what has to be the standout song of the set! The respect given by both the band and the fans is magical.
The cheers and applause bring the roof down as he false finishes the song, he throws a bit more of the John Lewis advert in as it ends. He’s on his feet and the piano is quickly removed. ‘Bulletproof’ is the penultimate song from 2018’s ‘When Legends Rise’. The snare snaps and percussive guitars bring the atmosphere back to a joyous level of grinding heavy rock. “get them up, like this, like this” shouts Erna as he gets the arms swaying from side to side, the song eventually finishes with “thank you very much”.
He goes onto say “ I gotta tell you Birmingham, we have had a great fucking time with you guys tonight” “ I hope we can come back and play bigger and better shows, bring your grandmother, I don’t care I wanna come back and blow some shit up for you” “shall we do one more?”
The hard-hitting intro to firm fan favourite ‘I Stand Alone’ crashes out. The crowd are in fine voice as they lead the way with this belter of a track. Its dark and nasty as Erna lets the crowd sing. He paces across the stage as he listens to the crowd. “all together now” he gets the crowd to sing out as the lights fly around lighting everyone up. GODSMACK is highlighted in yellow lights on the back drop.
The song is brought to an abrupt end by Erna who says” you guys have been to kind to us”, ”we appreciate you England”,” keep your eyes out for the new record in February”, ”we’ll see you again real soon”, ”take care of each other when you walk out of here tonight, you’re all brothers and sisters now so watch over each other” the drums finally end as Erna replaces his mic “thank you very, very much” he says before standing back and clapping the crowd.
The band come forward as one and bow, the pics and sticks are flung into the crowd. They exit and the crew are straight on it, set lists are removed and passed into the crowd as the venue slowly empties out and the stage is stripped ready to move onto its European leg of the tour.
This has been a cracking night of classic GODSMACK, you could argue about the set list but, ultimately, it was a great selection from over the years, yes, I’d like to have heard ‘Greed’ and ‘Straight Out of Line’, I’d have also liked to have seen the drum battle between Erna and Larkin. But, hey that’s life and it doesn’t take away from what was a stunning night.
And if you didn’t know, they have a new album out in February 2023 called ‘Lighting Up the Sky’s’. If the single ‘Surrender’ is anything to go by its going to be a proper banger, get it pre-ordered to avoid disappointment.