By Bonnie Dowler, Second year English and Philosophy
Enter Shikari prove once again that experimentation sell tickets in the triumphant Bristol leg of their now postponed UK tour.
The first support, the always-amazing Nova Twins, established themselves as artists to watch (if the crowd hadn’t been already, after recently supporting Bring Me The Horizon and Nothing But Thieves). The duo seem to be intensifying their gravelly, bass-heavy sonic sound each time I’ve seen them, leaving me hopeful they’ll continue to bring queer, female-led punk to increasingly larger stages.
However, as Dinosaur Jr played their first riff, my mood soured. Having heard good things about the band, I expected a decent set. But I was left googling mid-pit whether the three exhausted, cardboard cut-out men staring blankly into the crowd were the band I’d thought them to be. They sounded as if Dave Grohl recorded vocals for Sex Bob-omb. The band had apparently scrambled to join the tour in Lincoln; the drummer admitted he'd got the news while in Belgium, and was back in the UK wielding drumsticks in both hands within a few hours. In the spirit of forgiveness (it's nearly Christmas), they were understandably knackered. Nevertheless, a dash of pathos couldn’t save a mopey set.
So, when I heard an Alexa-esque female voice announce ‘10 minutes to lift-off’ from somewhere deep within the O2, I was relieved. The set was space themed: futuristic pillars of lights and a keyboard channeled the band’s iconic synth-riffs. The staging and voiceover had the potential to be cringey, especially in the eyes of OG Enter Shikari fans stuck in the mid 2000’s synth-metal era, but somehow the band got away with it. The threesome opened with ‘THE GREAT UNKNOWN’, appropriate as it features the lyrics ‘Is this a new beginning/ Or are we close to the end’, reflecting the complex emotions the band have faced taking on yet another album and tour.
The chorus had frontman Rey Reynolds shouting ‘Is there anyone out there / Just give me a sign.’ This could be Reynolds pleading for Alien contact, but is more likely Reynolds pleading for his fan’s attention. He is uncertain about who is still listening, and who still cares. But Reynolds got his answer and then some as the 1,600-capacity venue sang his melancholy mopings back to him. The crowd loved it: a surfer knocked over a stage light, mosh pits continued raging between songs, Reynolds lost his shoe, his toe was bleeding, and I struggled to hear his vocals over the crowd singing.
As Reynolds explained the absence of guitarist Chris Batten due to testing positive for COVID-19, a disquieting sense of reality set in. The music industry is still firmly wedged beneath the oppressive boot of coronavirus. With the threat of harsher restrictions imminent, the crowd were humbled in potentially not seeing their favourite band again for a while.
Enter Shikari are constantly evolving, and aren't afraid to cross boundaries between underground and mainstream sounds. Fans of the foursome are used to their uniquely intoxicating merge of seemingly mutually exclusive genres. I was therefore curious to observe how OG fans would react to their 2020 album ‘Nothing is True & Everything is Possible,’ which has the least experimental sonic soundscape to date. To my surprise they sang along to new indie-synth ‘Live Outside’ with the same vivacity as their heavier 2007 hit ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner’. It’s comforting to see fans with honest dedication who allow the band space to experiment; I’m sure other mainstream alternative bands would sound quite different if they weren’t terrified of losing fans along the way.
The band also continue to inject socio-political commentary into their lyrics. In an interview with Upset in 2020, Reynolds ruminated on the message of Enter Shikari: ‘We can’t do an album without at least one song about climate change… we still have to keep pummelling it, it has to drench the whole of society and keep people fuelled and wanting to be in activism’. Their music is a call for unity: an ode to hope and possibility. During one of their most politically-charged songs, ‘Ghandi, Mate, Ghandi,’ the crowd answered Reynold’s plea for resistance. The opening, which is more reminiscent of a political rally than a song, had fans echoing Reynold’s vocals as if they had wrote the lyrics themselves, demonstrating that Enter Shikari are still a political statement, and that people are still willing to carry their message.
While we’re on the topic of ‘Ghandi, Mate Ghandi,’ I have to commend Reynold’s stage presence. He swung his arms around like he was a toddler doing the windmill in P.E, and then moments later he was skanking, taking us from the school hall to watching a sweaty man ride out his comedown at a rave. He killed it.
Enter Shikari put on a triumphant show. But with the band on the cusp of cutting their tour short, and postponing their final UK shows for 2021 along with some European 2022 dates, it doesn't seem you’ll be able to get your hands on a ticket anytime soon.
Featured image: Tom Martin
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