Skindred Bring Their Celebration Of Life To Their Biggest Stage Yet | Live Review

London, OVO Arena Wembley, March 15 2024

There aren’t many gigs that could weave in covers of both House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ and a dubstep rendition of The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’, nor open with a hip-hop-inflected take on Star Wars’ ‘Imperial March’. Then again, there aren’t many acts quite like Skindred.

The Newport band of brothers have been riding high since the release of their eighth studio album, ‘Smile’. Thanks in no small part to a surge in popularity on TikTok for their 2004 track ‘Nobody’, and its accompanying viral dance trend, the LP soared to No. 2 in the charts – eclipsed only by Irish singer Cian Ducrot’s debut by a mere 150 units.

Image credit: Mark Latham

But it hasn’t always been this plain-sailing, as Skindred’s larger-than-life frontman Benji Webbe would remind us. “When it’s tough you just keep fucking going,” he declared, donning a full-body leather jacket and spiked sunglasses. “Well, we stayed in the fight and that’s why we’re in fucking Wembley tonight.”

This remark would be the night’s epitaph, as we revelled in the road that had led the MOBO-winning band to this point. Such an occasion might overwhelm some, drown them out at their biggest show to date, but you felt not even the Welsh national rugby team could remove Benji from his post, from the moment he entered and (quite literally) planted his blacked-out Union Jack flag onstage.

Image credit: Mark Latham

They set out their stall with menacing opener ‘Set Fazers’, as Benji stomped the stage to the tub-thumping beat of drummer Arya Goggin, whilst bushy-bearded guitarist Mikey Demus and bassist Dan Pugsley raised hell on the track’s chorus. The second single from ‘Smile’, the track is indicative of the band’s unapologetic defiance of fitting obediently into a single genre.

If you were looking for a neat little narrative, follow-up track ‘Pressure’ – from Skindred’s debut album ‘Babylon’ – being interspersed with AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’, proved equally encompassing of the night; not only would we celebrate early Skindred (which more than anything demonstrated just how true-to-themselves they’ve always been), but we’d pay homage to the singular power of rock n’ roll to keep a band like their’s persevering, even in periods that weren’t burning as brightly as they are at present.

Image credit: Mark Latham

And for those in search of a Friday night release from the humdrum of everyday life, and to rail against the state of societal chaos while you’re at it, the one-two punch of tracks ‘Ratrace’ and ‘Worlds on Fire’ fit the bill.

Yet despite these opening crowd-pleasers and a frenzied dash to stir up the 12,500-capacity venue, Benji reminded us he was the only captain of this ship. “I’m fuckin’ in charge, fuck off,” he half-joked, before dividing the arena into one side yelling “Whoop whoop,” the other screaming “That’s my jam,” to ‘Big Tings’ track ‘That’s My Jam’.

Image credit: Mark Latham

Thankfully, this particular ruler of the night had a simple, benevolent manifesto: “This isn’t just a concert, this is a celebration of life.” Amid the beach balls fired from the stage during the joyously uplifting ‘L.O.V.E. (Smile Please)’, even the most cheerless of souls would have found it hard to disagree.

And such is life, that the gig was by no means infantile escapism, but a reminder of the rough with the smooth. Benji opened an impassioned speech by telling us about the death of his mum by the time he turned 7, and the death of his dad by the age of 11. There aren’t many tougher starts to life than that, yet here is a man who’s evidently transmuted his trauma into a desire to overcome suffering through music. Watching The Specials as a young black boy in Wales, he told us, showed him what was possible; and now, delivering his message atop one of the country’s premier venues, evidently proved a moment for him to savour.

Image credit: Mark Latham

Likewise, a touching tribute to Benji’s son – who the singer confided in us struggled with drinking (“he wasn’t drinking from the bottle, the bottle was drinking from him”) – was aided by a beautiful, pared-back rendition of ‘Life That’s Free’. Here, you could truly appreciate the strength and soul of Benji’s singing; you might assume a frontman as effervescent as he is uses their onstage energy to compensate for vocal range, but this proved he possesses it in spades, ready for when he really needs it.

Still, Benji wouldn’t let the night’s proceedings end without a bang. Dedicating their smash hit ‘Nobody’ to (you guessed it) “every-fucking-body”, and with a drum n’ bass breakdown thrown into the mix, the sense of triumph ramped-up further still – matching the gloriously gold jacket Benji now adorned. ‘Smile’ favourite ‘Gimme That Boom’ added a gratifying thread to the more recent success the band has enjoyed, as did the towering ‘Smile’ opener ‘Our Religion’, which pronounced the band’s encore.

Image credit: Mark Latham

To close their grandest night of all, Benji invited P.O.D. frontman Sonny back onstage, who had helped open the show with aplomb (along with As Everything Unfolds). The two bands share an affinity in their uncompromising journeys, yet Benji had a tradition to initiate that only Skindred can claim as their own: The Newport Helicopter.

The sight of OVO Wembley Arena circling their shirts in unison made for a riotous, unified ending, making you realise not many acts could conjure such a moment. Then again, there aren’t many acts quite like Skindred.

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