SonicAbuse pictures coming soon. This image from Wikipedia – Athens gig 2007
It’s cold. Not as cold, perhaps, as it has been in the last week in the Midlands – a period which has seen the temperatures plummet to -13 – but still the early turn-out at Birmingham’s Academy 2 is disappointing. Nonetheless the first act, Carbon Fools, are up on stage as we enter the building sweating their asses off, and while the majority of the crowd aren’t paying attention, they really should because these Hungarian purveyors of space rock are really good. While song titles, alas, were not forthcoming, it’s highly recommended you check out this act as soon as you can, something you can do by clicking on this link here.
The second act of tonight turns out to be a solo artist, Lena Cullen, who appears amidst a haze of blue light and smoke to a crowd which is slowly filling out and who plays an odd but enthralling set of creepy ambient, dub that isn’t a million miles away from Massive Attack. It’s dark, melodic and very well executed by Lena who bravely took the stage alone and quickly won the hearts of all present. While her talents at the keyboard are undeniable, what really sets Lena apart s an amazing voice and if there is any justice at all in the world her forthcoming EP (entitled ‘Night time jewel’) will sell bucket-loads. Brave, talented and enthusiastic she shines brightly and by the end of her set the room, which by this point has gone from almost empty to half full, is paying her the attention she deserves. An excellent performance that perfectly set the scene for tonight’s heroes, the seemingly unstoppable Dreadzone, let’s hope that we see a lot more of Lena in 2011.
A wait of almost half an hour as the roadies seemingly struggle with various technical difficulties sees the venue fill up still further, although it’s far from rammed, and from the level interest that greets an instrumental mix of ‘Gangster’ which appears over the PA it’s clear that everyone has been waiting for this gig for a good while. The mix of old and young in the crowd is truly heart warming and a testament to the singular strength of recent album ‘Eye on the horizon’ which is well represented in tonight’s set and the band, who have been touring the record for almost three months now, are rock solid on both the old and new material with each member giving their all over the lengthy headline set.
As amazing as Dreadzone’s music is, however, there is another reason why crowds keep returning to the call of Dreadzone and that is the genuine passion and excitement that exudes from each of the band members on stage but especially from MC Spee who, despite still relying on a crutch thanks to ligament surgery on his knees, still puts more energy and life into his performance seated than most singers manage standing up. Moreover he’s got an instant rapport with the crowd thanks to his irrepressibly good natured demeanour, witty comments and a singing voice that surely inspires envy in all those present tonight. It is this very human element to Dreadzone that makes them so special and while musically they are gloriously proficient, their interaction with the crowd and genuine joy at being on stage makes this gig all the more special and the band simply shine with true star quality.
As for the set, well it’s expertly chosen. A wonderful mix of old and new sees the sublime ‘tomorrow never comes’ from the new album rub shoulders with the excellent ‘I know’ while ‘beyond a rock’ gets the whole venue jumping and ‘changes’ sees the whole venue moving from side to side. Other highlights include the excellent single ‘Gangster’ rendered perfectly and while the backing vocals of Earl 16 are missed, MC Spee’s astonishing voice means that the absence is not as painful as it might have been. Raising possibly the largest cheer of the night, ‘Zion youth’ is welcomed like an old friend and re-awakens long-forgotten memories of sitting listening to John Peel late at night to see what new bands I could discover, but what is really remarkable is how well the new material sits next to the older ‘classic’ material and how the whole is embraced by a crowd who are on their feet and dancing from the moment the band arrive on stage.
Overall this was an excellent night and, more to the point, all three acts were amazingly good. So often bands let themselves down by their choice of support act, but Dreadzone have picked two absolute corkers and if you missed the Birmingham gig shame on you – it was a night that was both thrillingly vital and gloriously life-affirming. At the end of the night we left the venue sweaty, happy and compelled to sing whole phrases of the bands insistently catchy melodies. A great night and a great band, long may Dreadzone continue – the next time they hit the stage we’ll be there front and centre.