Thursday, 25 February 2016

Tonight Alive - Bristol O2 Academy, 24/02/16

February has been a majorly busy gigging month for me and with this, my penultimate live review for the month, I went to Bristol O2 Academy for the first time in four years to see Tonight Alive. As this was my Christmas present, I was given VIP tickets too, which meant I managed to see the band perform unreleased song 'Waves' in their soundcheck. Because it's one of the tracks from 'Limitless' that hasn't come out yet, it was awesome to be one of the first people in the world to hear it, and trust me - it's worth waiting for. The band have been going from strength to strength with their recent singles, and it's just going to get better from here. 

When I saw opening act Milk Teeth at Takedown Festival last year, I was highly unimpressed. So unimpressed that I ended up leaving their set fairly quickly and I didn't mention them in my review! It meant I wasn't too pumped when I realised that they were one of the supports at this show, but hearing their new songs definitely changed my opinion.
The last year has been a huge one for Milk Teeth. They signed to Hopeless Records, released an EP and followed it up with their debut album, 'Vile Child', which came out a few weeks ago. Because the album hasn't been out long it seemed like the majority of the crowd didn't know the songs; this meant the reaction to the band wasn't very enthusiastic, but the band performed brilliantly.
Vocalist Becky Blomfield has an old school tone to her voice, similar to Courtney Love in her Hole days, and it's nice to hear something different to the vast majority of bands around at the moment. Whereas before I'd thought the band were thrashy and unpolished (in a bad way) the new songs seem to have honed their songwriting and they've definitely reigned themselves in - the control means that you can appreciate the music rather than just being assaulted with a wall of noise. Becky took a moment to call out to any girls in bands in the crowd, stating "we need more bands like The Distillers, The Pixies, so keep doing that!" and if Milk Teeth can inspire a new wave of female fronted bands it will not be a bad thing.
The most surprising moment of their set was 'Kabuki', which Becky introduced by saying that she wrote it when she was in a really bad place, and that she hoped by "putting this out here and me being stood here today [it proves] you can go through really shit times in your life and get through to a better place". It was a haunting song, with raw emotion and a vulnerability that makes it impossible not to respect Becky for being able to open herself up so thoroughly. She definitely has a talent for songwriting and if this is the kind of song they're releasing after being a band for nearly three years, I'm excited to see where they go in the future.
The band recently lost guitarist Josh Bannister, one of their founding members, but touring guitarist and backing vocalist Billy Hutton fits into the band so perfectly that you'd think he'd been there the whole time. His roaring vocal at the end of 'No Fun' certainly showed a different side to the band, but instead of thinking their older music was over the top and unappealing, I found myself really enjoying it.
I'm surprised that Milk Teeth managed to change my opinion so completely, but I'm very grateful for it: I can't wait to get hold of 'Vile Child' and hear what their songs sound like on a recording rather than in a live environment.

Brain Food
Burger Drop
Crows Feet
Melon Blade
Swear Jar
No Fun

I've liked Our Last Night for a very long time, but things have always gone wrong when I've tried to see them live: illness, or cancellations, or transport issues. Finally seeing them was something I'd been waiting for for over four years. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
The chemistry between co-vocalists Trevor and Matthew Wentworth is captivating - not too surprising, with them being brothers -   but it meant that the set was absorbing and the energy just didn't let up. The crowd responded to them better than they did to Milk Teeth, which is probably due to how long they've been a band: whereas Milk Teeth only formed in 2013, Our Last Night released their debut album over ten years ago. It means they already have their own fanbase solidly established, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people only came to this show to see them.
Their half an hour set time felt like it was a lot longer because of the variety of songs that they played. Ranging from the heavier, almost post-hardcore sound, through to the acoustic 'White Tiger' and the uplifting and inspirational 'Sunrise', there was definitely a mix of styles in this set, and it kept it interesting - you never knew what was going to be played next, you just knew it was going to be enjoyable.
'Home' was one of the more successful moments, with the beautiful split vocal at the end of the track (emphasized with the use of a backing track to add more layers to the sound) showing exactly how complementary the brother's voices are.
If you're looking for a band that put on an energetic show, look no further than Our Last Night. Trevor only stayed still during 'White Tiger' because he needed to be able to play his acoustic guitar, but for the rest of the set he didn't stop moving. Just during the last half of 'Sunrise' he jumped off of the drum platform that was set up ready for Tonight Alive, then threw himself into the crowd, running up and down in front of the barrier. Seeing this band live you can't help but be entertained - I just hope it's not too long until I can see them again.

Road To The Throne
Same Old War
White Tiger
A World Divided

This is the second Tonight Alive headline show that I've seen, after going to their Reading Festival warm-up show at Oxford back in 2014, and because that was one of the best headline sets I'd ever seen I was a little bit nervous - I didn't know if they'd be able to live up to my expectations.
Hearing 'Waves' in soundcheck definitely took some of my worries away: I'd forgotten how spectacular Jenna McDougall's vocal was. But it was the start of their headline set and the performance of new song 'To Be Free' that really reminded me of how spectacular this band. Instead of building up the tension and coming out on stage under the cover of darkness, Jenna had her microphone back stage with her and started singing before the band had set foot on the stage. It was a unique entrance, and it started the show off with a bang that didn't fizzle out.
The thing about Tonight Alive is that I really like them, but I keep forgetting to listen to them. It sounds weird, but it's true: sometimes I won't listen to them for three or four months, but then I'll remember just how much I enjoy their sound. I looked up their setlist before we came to this show and I thought I knew one or two songs, so I was very surprised when I ended up knowing almost every song that went into their set. From 'The Ocean' to 'Hell and Back' (which Jenna finished by singing "I went to hell and back just to be where I am today, with you, on the Limitless world tour!") they write songs that are easy to relate to and are emotionally evocative, but they're so easy to sing along to as well, despite the sometimes hard-hitting subject matter. With Jenna announcing "if you don't know what we stand for, we're all about personal power and emotional freedom" they certainly proved it with their music.
I was surprised by the crowd's reaction to Tonight Alive. I'd always kind of thought of them as a bit mellow, so with their fans instantly throwing themselves into the set it wasn't what I'd expected. When Jenna was talking to the crowd someone shouted "Mosh pit!" at her, to which she replied "What did you say? Oh, you want a mosh pit? I appreciate that, I thought you said something rude for a second there" before announcing that there would be moshing later and that they just needed to work their way into the set. I don't know if the pits did arrive, but the audience seemed very up for it: after the tame reaction to the heavier Milk Teeth I hadn't thought it was a hardcore crowd, but apparently Tonight Alive changed that!
During a brief gap while Jenna spoke, one of the guys started playing the intro 'Stay Together For The Kids' by Blink-182, leading to a very small and impromptu cover session featuring the intros of 'All The Small Things' and 'Feeling This'. Jenna joked "Can we be a Blink cover band for the night?", but while the prospect was exciting they have far too many of their own successful songs to perform.
The most emotional song of the evening was unquestionably 'Amelia', written about the death of a close friend. Introducing the song Jenna mentioned the fact that they'd met fans before the show and a lot of people had brought along their copies of debut album 'What Are You So Scared Of?', saying "it's really cool that an album that came out in 2012... 2011! Is still being brought to shows", crediting 'Amelia' with helping the band appeal to fans with their lyrical content and helping them get where they are today. Based on the reaction of the crowd the majority of people really love their older material - this band have built themselves a very solid and dedicated group of fans.
With the majority of the band leaving the stage after 'What Are You So Scared Of?' it was time for the acoustic part of the evening. The stripped back session was intimate and made the show very special. With Jenna and Whakaio sitting together on the platform at the front of the stage, they played 'Safe and Sound' and 'The Other Side'. Before 'Safe and Sound', Jenna explained that they'd decided to play it because "there's a beautiful couple in the front row and it's their anniversary and they both have lyrics from 'Safe and Sound' tattooed on their bodies!" before getting the crowd to shout out Happy Anniversary to the two of them. I hadn't heard the song before, but I've absolutely fallen in love with it - it's beautiful, and the acoustic sound worked brilliantly on it, making for a very memorable moment. Because 'Safe and Sound' was a fan request, people were shouting out for other songs that they wanted to hear acoustic, with Jenna joking "We're not going to play 'The Edge' acoustic!" before introducing the second acoustic song that they'd play, my personal highlight of the set: an extended version of 'The Other Side'.
I first heard 'The Other Side' during Tonight Alive's Oxford show, and I've listened to it constantly since - it's just a brilliant song, and it's definitely my favourite from Tonight Alive. I was a bit worried about hearing the extended version, because I didn't want them to ruin the song by doing too much to it, but the extended version is actually better than the original: it only has two extra verses, but with Jenna passionately singing "we were always more than friends, just friends" it had a little extra kick that made me enjoy it that much more. As Jenna said, "it's about reflecting on your past without bitterness and without resent", and I think that meaning comes across that much more solidly in the extended version.
Unfortunately I did have to leave before the end of their set due to an early train home, so I'm only using educated guesses at how their setlist went after 'Human Interaction', which started as I was walking out of the venue. It was a shame that I didn't get to hear more of the new songs from 'Limitless' live because it would have been nice to see how they sounded in a live environment - it's only a couple of weeks until the album comes out, but it's nice to see the reaction and feel the atmosphere surrounding new material. I'm sure it won't be too long until I see Tonight Alive again, so I'll just have to hear the new songs next time.

To Be Free
The Fire
The Ocean
Hell and Back
What Are You So Scared Of?
Safe and Sound (acoustic)
The Other Side (extended version acoustic)
Human Interaction
Don't Wish (*)
Wasting Away (*)
The Edge (*)
Listening (*)
Drive (*)
How Does It Feel? (*)
Lonely Girl (*)

(*) - setlist credit to, taken from the Manchester night of the tour. I can't confirm if these were the other songs played, but up to and including 'Human Interaction' is right for this show. 

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