Neck Deep Ride The Wave Of Support At Their Biggest Career Show | Live Review

London, Alexandra Palace, March 28 2024

“I’m probably the most nervous person in the room,” Neck Deep frontman Ben Barlow says, as he hawks the stage around a quarter of the way into the band’s set. It’s a fair enough assertion given this marks the band’s biggest-ever headline show to date, at a 10,000-capped Ally Pally. Catching himself, though, as if recalling the trials and tribulations along the road to get here, he adds: “But I know full fucking well we deserve to be here.”

The vocalist’s admission was perhaps an honest slip of the tongue – surely no frontman wants to lose the projection of bullet-proof confidence. Then again, the pop-punk powerhouse, and recent Rock Sound 25 Icons, have only ever worn their heart on their sleeves. And Ben’s subsequent save would be backed by their continuing set: they didn’t just deserve to be here, they belonged.

After sauntering onstage during a kaleidoscopic montage of Neck Deep highlights, all Ben needed to do was lift his arms aloft to ignite yells from the crowd from the moment he entered. So when the lights cut and he yelled “Ally fucking Pally, let’s go,” you can imagine the match-to-a-flame scenario, with a crowd not merely warmed, but still sizzling from support acts Drain and Knuckle Puck.

From their set opener – ‘Dumbstruck Dumbf**K’, the first track from their recent self-titled album – this was evidently a night for the band to relish, with guitarist Matt West resembling a rubber ball fired from a cannon, bouncing across the stage, his riffs and shredding belying the tiny arms from which he played (his arms possibly sporting a new tattoo from the pop-up parlour available for fans in nearby Finsbury Park earlier in the day).

It’s not often a band opts to put their name onto their fifth studio LP; it doesn’t take a marketing genius to work out you’d want that on your first full-length statement, as a branding exercise, if anything. But Neck Deep’s most recent title choice could be viewed as the band pronouncing themselves in their most complete form. As Ben would tell the crowd: “It feels like we’re the best version of this band we’ve ever been.”

Sure, that’s easy to say, but listening to the slap-in-yer-face verve of recent additions ‘Sort Yourself Out’ and ‘Go Outside!’, you hear why. They feel as though they’ve preserved the raw essence of the band’s very first LP ‘Rain In July’ and polished them up with an anthemic sheen, making them ripe for a venue like tonight’s.

Their latest record also reminded us that whilst the Wrexham boys have an affable charm (and even a sensitive underbelly as on previous release ‘She’s A God’), they won’t shy away from picking political battles. Following a rather touching anecdote about a stranger who told him to “use [your] platform,” Ben reminded us that you could take aim in practically any direction at the moment, rousing the crowd with a cry of, “F**k the Tories, f**k Rishi Sunak, f**k Joe Biden, f**k Donald Trump, and f**k the corporations,” before harpooning into headbanger ‘We Need More Bricks’.

By subsequent track ‘Don’t Wait’, it was Ben who was so pumped by the occasion, he jumped headfirst into the crowd, after filling for the verse usually taken by Architects’ Sam Carter. The night’s stewards presumably breathed a sigh of relief once he reemerged and dashed back on-stage – only for him to later request an Ally Pally record for crowd-surfing, albeit with limited success.

And speaking of limited success, Ben would dedicate ‘Heartbreak Of The Century’ not to a lover from years gone by, but to Manchester United (“that’s my heartbreak, it’s the same thing”). Perhaps in the tradition of his beloved club, they would follow up by giving the rushing ‘Neck Deep’ album closer ‘Moody Weirdo’ its first live runout – safe to say it was a promising debut that will give Ben and co. a lot to think about for their starting eleven.

But whilst flexing the four corners of their latest album was an indication of their present potency, in truth – as we all know – it’s the Neck Deep classics that hold the deepest sway with the crowd. After playing the immensely wistful ‘December’ and its ramped-up rendition, ‘December (again)’, they would wrap-up their four-track encore with a towering performance of ‘In Bloom’.

“You got one more in you?” Ben asks beforehand, to inevitable pours of support. Indeed, Ben might have been the most nervous in the room, but with this 10,000-strong base of support all pulling in the same direction, just as they’ve done over the years with Neck Deep, a blinder of a set was never in doubt.

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