Words: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
Cheesy card: Check.
Romantic evening in the company of SOiL and Alien Ant Farm: Check.
Could Valentine’s night get any more special than this? I don’t think so!
And it’s not only fans of turn-of-the-millennium nü-metal who are in for a treat in the Academy tonight, as old-school icons Anvil have also turned up, on the same night, at the same venue, albeit relegated to the smaller downstairs green room. We arrive at the main stage just moments before Chicago-founded SOiL makes their long-awaited return to Ireland. It’s been more than ten years since they last played in Dublin, and more than fifteen since the one and only time unmistakeable frontman Ryan McCombs serenaded us.
Hinting that SOiL is more than a mere support act, their full-size backdrop hangs proudly behind the drum kit, and a quick glance around the bustling crowd reveals as many, if not more branded t-shirts than representing tonight’s headliner. A recorded intro mix of Rob Zombies ‘Devil Man’, The Troggs’ ‘Wild Thing’ and SOiL’s own ‘Halo’ makes way for the instantly recognisable opener ‘Breaking Me Down’ from their 2001 breakthrough album Scars (which, interestingly, was released on the day of the September 11th attacks). McCombs’ ever-powerful scream kicking off proceedings and assuring those in any doubt that the passing of time has not faded SOiL’s ability to whip up a storm.
It comes as no surprise that the setlist draws heavily from Scars with a couple of songs from its 2004 follow-up Redefine. McCombs thanks the audiences enthusiasm for the title track, citing the album as his under-appreciated favorite. It’s also no surprise that nothing from either of the albums recorded and released during his hiatus gets aired. Only ‘The Hate Song’ from their 2013 album Whole and their renowned cover of ‘Black Betty’ drift outside their fan-favorite album. But that’s not a complaint, and when the inevitable finale of their anthemic ‘Halo’ sees McCombs climbing into the middle of the pit to scream the lyrics surrounded by a horde of willing accomplices, it’s hard to deny that SOiL can, and should, deliver those era-defining tracks. McCombs leaves the stage with the frank and humble observation, “The music starts with you. The music ends with you. You’re the reason we’re here”.
But of course, there’s another reason WE are here tonight. And that’s to see Californian rockers Alien Ant Farm, whose breakthrough album Anthology was also released in 2001. The last (and possibly the first) time they played Dublin was in the intimate Voodoo Lounge venue in 2016, but with the help of SOiL tonight, they get the opportunity to play to a much much larger Irish audience. At 9 pm on the dot, the sounds of cuckoo clocks and fairgrounds accompany the fun foursome onstage. Launching into ‘Bad Morning’ from Up In The Attic, it’s immediately apparent that this is a band who still really enjoy what it is they do. I for one lost all awareness of AAF for more than a decade, but was pleasantly surprised by their unheard repertoire and more so, its delivery. It’s hard to say exactly what it is about their show that is so entertaining, especially for someone who would not necessarily be a huge fan of this end of the musical spectrum, but it is. It’s probably the contagious enthusiasm and energy of the band themselves and undoubtedly their impeccable performance and sound setup.
Tracks from Anthology like ‘Movies’ and ‘Courage’ are obviously crowd pleasers, and the sing-alongs are loud and clear. Vocalist and founding member Dryden Mitchell dedicates ‘Attitude’ to both his Mom and Chester Bennington (who we are told named it his favorite AAF song of all time), and is wrapped up tonight with a couple of bars of Linkin Park’s ‘In the End’. The entire set is taken from their three albums released in the noughties, save for just one track ‘Simpatico’ from their 2015 release Always and Forever.
There’s no denying that the one track that first brought AAF to the attention of a lot of fans was their catchy cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, and as fully expected, it is the climactic finale of tonight’s show. The crowd is loving it, the band is loving it, and Mitchell even face-times (and crotch-times) his valentine via Skype, giving her the opportunity to see and wave to the fans. Whoever said heavy music wasn’t romantic?