Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Used - Oxford O2 Academy, 17/02/15

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that I saw and reviewed opening band Decade back in October, when they played my hometown of Swindon. Back then, I said that I'd never seen Decade looking so confident and sounding so assured in their music, and while that might have changed slightly over the last couple of months they still put on an amazing show. Vocalist Alex Sears seemed kind of uncomfortable up on stage - it might have been the atmosphere of the crowd, who seemed pretty unresponsive - but musically they still sounded as good as they ever have. Whereas, in the past, I've stated that their sets can blur together a bit, with all of their songs sounding a little bit same-y, a setlist rejig has fixed that issue, and their half an hour set rose and fell in a way that got the crowd moving enough to show their appreciation. Some aspects of the songs were changed, such as the group shout of the song title "I don't care" at the end of the track, but it's hard to distinguish whether that was from a sense of complacency or from a marked effort to shake things up a little bit.  Finishing off with a new song, without announcing it, was a bit of a surprise, but it sounds to me as though Decade are going in a heavier direction with their music, and whatever happens on their second album, it's not going to be a repeat of 'Good Luck'. Today, I've found out that I'm going to be attending Takedown Festival in the first week of March, and I'm definitely going to be dropping in on Decade's set to see if they slip in any more new material, because it's something I'm highly anticipating.   

I Don't Care
British Weather
Fake Teeth
Fools Gold
New song

However, second band Landscapes just did not do it for me. When bands are shouting and hardcore, I like to still be able to understand the lyrics, but that just didn't happen here. In a set that mostly blurred all in together, I could only distinguish a lyric here or there, so I got bored rather quickly. The fourth song in their set stood out, which was remarkable when all of the other songs seemed to be so tightly interlinked, but other than that I found myself bored multiple times throughout. Musically, the band seemed rather talented, but they just were not my cup of tea, and I was too excited for The Used to really give them too much of a chance.

I've been listening to The Used for a good seven years, and this is the first time I've ever managed to catch one of their live shows. I was filled with nerves, because I had my hopes set so utterly high, but I had nothing to be worried about. As soon as the opening riff to recent single 'Cry' echoed throughout the venue, I knew we were bound to be in for an amazing performance, and I was not wrong. Vocalist Bert McCracken burst out on the stage with an energy that was effervescent, spilling out of him and straight into the crowd who instantly exploded into action. Despite the fact that 'Cry' is rather a recent release, the crowd was singing along passionately, and that was just a taste of the things to come throughout the evening.
One of the most commendable things about The Used is that they sure as hell know how to craft a setlist. I looked it up before the concert and I was impressed by the fact that they managed to contain songs from nearly all of their six album discography, which is a pretty big feat when you've been a band for as long as The Used have. Diving from a recent release back into old fan favourite 'Take It Away' connected with the small section of the crowd who weren't involved in the moving and singing along, and from there on out the crowd was connected for the entire night. Running through all of their greatest hits: 'The Bird and The Worm', 'The Taste of Ink', 'All That I've Got' and 'Pretty Handsome Awkward', to name but a few, the reaction just kept getting better and better. 'The Taste of Ink' had the best crowd reaction to a song that I've ever experienced in a live show, the line "it's four o'clock in the fucking morning" being screamed entirely by the crowd, putting a massive smile on the faces of every member of the band. While guitarist Quinn Allman is on a hiatus for the entirety of 2014, Justin Shekoski of Saosin is filling in for him, but it wasn't obvious at all; Justin is such a talented musician that he managed to slot himself into the band effortlessly, and I'm glad that it was such a successful collaboration.
If you have been a fan of The Used for a while, or have heard about them in recent years, you will probably know that with their latest album 'Imaginary Enemy' they took a bit of a political twist. This was expressed consistently throughout the show, with Bert making many mini speeches in between their songs, but it was artfully done in the way that it did not sound preachy. Often, when band members decide to start talking about the government and society, it can come across as an attempt at brainwashing, trying to turn the crowd into living, breathing vessels to contain their message. However, this was not true at this show. Bert was so utterly impassioned by what he was saying, stating "I still believe that music, and people like us, can change this fucked up world". Instead of attacking the system, trying to turn disenfranchised teens even further against their rulers, Bert stated "that's a good point, the system is fucked. But the only way to change a fucked up system is to learn everything you can about it". With so many 'preachers' nowadays stating that the way to make a difference is to have completely and utter disinterest and non-action (I'm looking at you, Russell Brand) it's refreshing to hear a voice that is urging us to learn and not just sit back and wait for things to change. Instead of pressuring, Bert inspired, and instead of just coming away from the show feeling satisfied with their live performance and their musicality, I came away from the show feeling more thoughtful and that can never be a negative aspect.
If you haven't seen The Used live yet, please go and do it. I'm already regretting how many years I've waited, and as soon as they come back to the UK I will travel any distance to go and see them again. Despite the fact that it was their first ever show in Oxford, Bert announced that they were going to attempt to come back soon, and their reaction combined with the fact that it hadn't completely sold out makes me think that the next time they step in that room it will be filled to the brim with people waiting for them. You really do get everything from a show with The Used: amazing music, hilarious banter (including an Anne Robinson mask, thrown onto the stage from the crowd, proclaiming her to be "as big as Obama in our culture), mind-opening speeches, a Nirvana cover, a Rage Against The Machine cover and a drum solo from Bert... Wait, what?! Yeah, this show was that jam-packed. If you've skipped out on going to their UK tour, shame on you - you've missed a damn amazing show.

Take It Away
The Bird and The Worm
I Caught Fire
The Taste of Ink
All That I've Got
Buried Myself Alive
Best Of Me
Blood On My Hands
Pretty Handsome Awkward
Bert drum solo
Box Full Of Sharp Objects (including Smells Like Teen Spirit intro and Killing In The Name outro, with Landscapes singer on stage)

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