As I have intimated on these pages before, one of the best things about reviewing music is the potential for discovering all sorts of great new bands that you may have otherwise overlooked. In this case, when I was asked to review Fozzy at the Leicester O2 Academy, newly built up at Leicester University, I knew almost nothing about the band beyond the name but I thought it’d be a good chance to check out the new venue in our home patch. As it turned out it was a chance to check out a band of exceptional quality.
However, let us not get ahead of ourselves. Fozzy were but one act on a four act bill which included Death Valley Pile Driver, Symphony Cult and a fourth band who played while we were still trying to gain entry to the labyrinthine venue. Arriving into the O2 Academy 2, I was surprised to find that it was the same (un-refurbished) hall where I had taken my final exams for my degree course about a hundred years ago. Disappointingly little or no effort had gone into making the room more presentable so it had more of a school hall feel to it than that of a serious musical venue and that included the appalling sound which vexed all three bands over the course of the night.
The first act we caught were the excellent Death Valley Pildriver who arrived on stage amidst a storm of vicious riffs, well executed vocals and boasting a drummer who is worth his weight in gold. Quite how this lot are unsigned is an absolute mystery because they not only boast songs of extraordinary quality, but an earthy sense of humour and a genuine stage presence that saw them more than keep up with the headline act. Highlights of their all too brief set included ‘the proof’ which has a genuinely memorable chorus and a ferocious lead off riff, ‘Completion’ which sees the band getting the small but enthusiastic crowd going with its ‘escape to the void’-era Sepultura feel, ‘the blood’ which is pure old school Slayer and ‘DVP’ which sees singer Riktor end up in the heart of the crowd. An excellent band who deserve to get far more recognition you can check them out on the remaining dates of the Fozzy tour or here on their myspace page – you’d be foolish not to.
Sadly Symphony Cult are a totally different experience. Branding themselves goth metal, they arrive on stage amidst formulaic nu-metal riffs while their singer struggles bravely against a sound man who seems to think that all the bands are instrumental and has thus drowned out the vocals. Sadly the situation actually deteriorates when the vocals do appear as the band turn out to be something between Alanis Morissette and Evanescence. Furthermore, despite the fact that they name-check the headline act for all they’re worth to raise a cheer or three, the band fail to hold the interest of the crowd for the duration of their set.
As we have established, the O2 Academy 2 in Leicester is not a good venue. Small, unfinished and with a soundman who is seemingly deaf (or at the very least utterly unaware of the music he is supposed to be sorting the levels for), it still has the gall to charge O2 prices at the temporary bar and the security are everywhere, even though the crowd are well behaved and good natured. These are all important facts because, with Guns and Roses on tour in much larger venues, we are all aware of what can happen when a headline act are unhappy with their surroundings, but if Fozzy are unhappy it’s not showing. The chant for the band starts pretty much from the moment Symphony Cult finish and continues throughout the band’s set. Arriving on stage to Queen’s ‘we will rock you’ the band immediately set about reducing the venue to rubble. Far from struggle on a stage that is rather smaller than they’re used to, the band take maximum advantage of being so close to the crowd, slapping hands, pointing out individual moshers and offering up an intimacy that you wouldn’t expect from a band this polished. The only rain cloud in sight is the initial bad sound mix that dogs the first two songs, but once it does get sorted out nothing can stop Fozzy’s brand of heavy-rock-meets-Stone-Temple-pilots. With guitarist Rich Ward looking every inch the metal veteran he is and chucking out jaw-dropping riffs with all the energy of Iggy Pop on steroids, the rest of the band giving a performance that would shame the youngest punk pop band and singer Chris Jericho proving that he has not only stage presence in spades but a voice to match, this is the sort of gig that stands out in the memory because it not only gets you moving but it’s also so much fun.
With plenty of songs from excellent new album ‘chasing the grail’ including ‘martyr no more’ with its insanely catchy chorus, ‘grail’ with its heavy as f*** opening barrage of riffs and drums and the unpronounceable ‘paraskavedekatriaphobia’ (fear of Friday 13th)all sending the crowd utterly mental, it is no surprise that every person here is utterly caught up in the gig whether they wanted to be or not. Certainly the sing-a-long effort ‘God pounds his nails’ is a memorable highlight with its “hey hey hey” / “1,2,3” chorus seeing every voice in the crowd raised in unison. “Does anyone in the crowd have our new album?” Chris asks at one point. “You can just lie, I’ll never know the difference. Now does anyone in the crowd have our new album?” A huge cheer goes up from every person present. “Yeah? I suspected as much!” chuckles Chris, but it’s clear that all those who have yet to buy a copy went straight home and did so.
This is what a rock show should be like. When the energy levels pouring off the stage eclipse those within a rabidly enthusiastic crowd you know you are witnessing something special and on this evening Fozzy gave it everything while playing a set of songs to match – there was not a single boring moment throughout the whole of their set and it passed in the blink of an eye. Fozzy may well not be the biggest band in the world, but for the people in Leicester it felt like they were. Now that’s the sign of a truly great rock ‘n’roll band. Long live Fozzy!