Fightstar Set Wembley Alight In Celebration Of Their 20th Anniversary | Live Review

London, Wembley Arena, March 22 2024

Photo: Corinne Cumming

Formed in 2003 whilst frontman Charlie Simpson was still serving as one-third of pop-punk megastars Busted, Fightstar were never supposed to headline a place like Wembley Arena.

A project formed purely as a means for creative freedom and exploration, when Simpson began spending time with bandmates Alex Westaway [guitar], Omar Abidi [drums], and Dan Haigh [bass] in a Clapham rehearsal space two decades ago, visions of such grandiose achievements were undoubtably far from their minds.

Bonding over a shared love of Rage Against The Machine and a passion for writing music centred on authenticity and honesty, their growing connection shortly led to Simpson’s departure from Busted. Pursuing his passion project full-time, once their 2006 debut ‘Grand Unification’ hit the airwaves, Fightstar had solidified their position as a vital part of the thriving Brit rock scene.

Releasing four albums over the next nine years, each finding their way into people’s hearts and lives with a stark mantra of finding light within the darkness, it’s been eight years since the last time the members of Fightstar shared a stage. Headlining their biggest show to date to celebrate their band’s 20th anniversary, tonight Wembley Arena is filled with a crowd ready to relive the angst and euphoria of their teenage years, as a wave of skinny jeans and band shirts crashes into North-West London.

Before the nostalgia takes control though, the stage is set for Liverpool’s Loathe to kickstart affairs. Showcasing a new breed of alternative music, the evening’s first mosh pits open for a set of blistering carnage splintered with atmospheric bliss.

Whipping the assembled crowd into a frenzy, limbs flailing through boisterous cuts ‘Screaming’ and ‘Aggressive Evolution’ before the enchanting slow-burn of ‘Is It Really You?’ takes hold, the four-piece prove that they’re more than worthy of standing upon stages this size.

Whilst a large majority of the crowd is here to back in rock history, it’s a reassurance that the future of the scene is in good hands, a feeling strengthened as main support Twin Atlantic take to the stage.Unleashing a career-spanning set brimming with huge choruses and infectious guitar lines, frontman Sam McTrusty guides the room through euphoric singalongs of hits ‘Free’, ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Heart and Soul’, whilst bright and breezy outings of newer tracks ‘Stuck In A Car With You’ and ‘World Class Entertainment’ showcase the Glasgow outfit’s latest era.

A playlist of emo classics blaring between sets, as phone lights are waved in the air during mass singalongs of My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and Fall Out Boy tunes, by the time Fightstar make their way onstage, a palpable energy is surging through the room. An arch of lights framing the stage, the Blade Runner title theme soundtracks an on-screen video depicting a cityscape. Zooming on an eye reflected with flames that engulf the scene, the four-piece walk onstage to rapturous applause, barrelling straight into 2006 hit ‘Paint Your Target’. 

Raucous chants echoing through the room during the song’s bridge as Simpson and Westaway share vocal duties, Simpson’s distinctive soulful tones take centre stage on ‘Waste A Moment’, splintered with emotive screams that see the crowd surge forward.

“Wembley, how the fuck are you doing?!” the 38-year-old grins as he catches his breath.

“It’s been a minute, but it feels good to be back onstage with these motherfuckers.”

Displaying a flawless sense of control as they rattle through their career highlights, the four-piece effortlessly dart between delicate and anarchic moments. Abidi situated on a raised platform behind his bandmates, drum-heavy emotionally wrought cut ‘Animal’ sees the sticksman at his finest, whilst Simpson’s brother, Will, expertly handles guitar duties on the likes of ‘Tannhäuser Gate’.

Haigh noting that he recognises some of the faces in front of him from the band’s early shows, ‘Grand Unification, Part I’ sparks a mosh pit that covers the majority of the arena’s floor. One of the first songs the band wrote together, after its defiant closing scream a bewildered Simpson studies the audience gathered before him.

“This is a fucking special evening for us… I don’t think you don’t understand,” he notes, gently shaking his head.

“We are so honoured and privileged to be here.”

A warming sense of gratitude that builds as the frontman acknowledges fans who have flown in from the likes of Texas for the occasion, it makes sense that Fightstar are at their best when they have the full force of their fanbase behind them. Ferociously heavy 2015 cut ‘Sink With The Snakes’ sees huge pockets of the room break off into brutal mosh pits. Simpson darting across the stage spitting frantic screams behind a seemingly endless flurry of pyro, it’s a scene that leads Westaway to remark, “that was like a fucking barbecue!”

Elsewhere, epic string accentuated ‘War Machine’ and dual-vocal led ‘Hazy Eyes’ serve as highlights of the evening, alongside a searing rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ iconic hit ‘Hurt’ – a cover the four-piece also played at their first ever show.

Simpson remarking that he doubts the crowd will have even heard ‘Until Then’ before, he’s visibly stunned as a vast potion of the room screams back each word of the lesser-known track in unison. Smiles forming across the faces of all four men onstage, it’s a reminder of the lasting impact that Fightstar have had not only on the alternative scene, but on the countless lives soundtracked by their music.

“Wembley, we love you so much,” Simpson smiles.

“If you told us twenty years ago that we’d end up headlining in this venue, we wouldn’t have believed you… This band is a brotherhood, and that feeling extends to everyone in this room.”

Rounding out the night with a heartfelt rendition of ‘Amethyst’ before a sea of voices scream back each word to ‘Palahnuik’s Laughter’, as the lights come up, its triumphantly clear how much Fightstar have been missed.

“Wembley, we love you. See you next time,” waves the frontman, and whilst the future of Fightstar may yet be unknown, there’s over 10,000 people here desperately hoping that next time isn’t another eight years away.

More like this