It’s a brisk Friday night in Birmingham. The German Market is buzzing, the streets are filled with bargain hunters, as Black Friday rears its big shiny deal having head. But tonight, The Arena (formerly Barclaycard Arena, formerly NIA) in Birmingham hosts a trio of British bands who are sure to bring a blistering heat to a cold November evening.
Upon walking into the venue, I’m a little bit confused. The stage isn’t right at the front of the venue as usual, but is in the back third, with only very limited seating available for those who are not braving the chaos tonight.
First up is Astroid Boys from South Wales. Fans of tonight’s headliners will no doubt be aware as to who these boys are, essentially a rap band. Political statements and character assassinations of those in power are going to be par for the course tonight, but Astroid Boys bring the vibe of Rage Against The Machine, which is too easy a comparison. To me, they have an air of Run The Jewels too, and a little hit of the urgency that bands like Anti Flag and indeed, Enter Shikari about them. They have the crowd bouncing, dancing, and at one point, opening a huge circle pit too. Infectious, angry but a whole lot of fun, Astroid Boys won’t be on opening support slots for too long.
Next is Lower Than Atlantis. This is a band who are possibly capable of filling the entire venue alone, having quite recently had a sold out headlining tour of some large venues, including the O2 Academy in Birmingham. There’s something to be said of the diversity of tonight’s line up, as LTA are essentially a commercially successful, very accessible rock band, in comparison to the band they are following, and the band they’re supporting. There are deep lyrics, heavy riffs and an incredible stage presence by these four. Frontman Mike Duce is all about the stage during the instrumental breaks, playing to the crowd, getting them roaring and dancing again, and gets what he asks for in a huge circle pit. (There’s a running theme here, if you’d not noticed...) Quite a long support set contains all the “hits” and if Lower Than Atlantis were unknown to anyone before, they won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Finally, it’s time. Enter Shikari are known for pushing boundaries, both lyrically, musically and politically. But they’ve got a new axe to wield. The use of Quadrophonic sound. This is a different set up to what you’ll be used to, as I’m not sure there are any other band who use it. They’ve been preparing for this tour, doing programming and a lot of complicated tech stuff in order to use light and sound to control and elicit emotion, way before the tour kicked off. Alongside the usual “speaker stacks” positioned at the side of the stage, there are 2 extra “stacks” in the back corners of the venue, aimed into the middle, so you get hit with sound no matter where you are.
This is exemplified best by the pre show radio broadcast, with four agents at the four corners, transmitting to each other, using the code names “Lion”, “Ostrich”, “Arctic Fox” and “Mr. Magpie”. There’s a “power test” that hears a series of three tones from each set of speakers, harnessing your directional hearing, and an announcement of 2 airplanes being launched from the airfield that we are encompassing.
You hear two propeller planes taking off and circling the airfield and it’s utterly incredible.
“The Spark” opens proceedings and sees the band take to the stage, before launching into “The Sights”, as per their latest album “The Spark”. The tone is set by the ever eccentric, rarely static, Rou Reynolds, who windmills every limb as he crosses the stage with such incredible speed and energy throughout tonight’s performance. An old favourite follows and a sea of fists pierce the air in “Solidarity”
A circular video screen captures your eyes and keeps them glued to the stage, especially during “Rabble Rouser”, which sees an impossible rise in energy from all in attendance, as Rou’s face appears on the screen in a perfectly synchronised video of him singing the lyrics with Rou in stage.
The pace slows for just 2 songs.
“This is a song about the worst year of my life”, says Rou, after somehow getting to the sound desk, where a piano, adorned with a Shikari Flag, sits.
He begins to play “Airfields”, and the entire crowd is moved. There’s a sombre silence as he tinkles the keys and the rawness of the emotional tool of the song appear to catch up with the man himself.
Into “Adieu”, where the level of emotion is still high, but we seem to have gone through a tunnel, and come out in an almost enlightened state. Rob Rolfe has joined Rou at the sound desk, playing the drums and what I can’t quite see, but assume to be a xylophone. As it closes, Rory C and Chris Batten take to the stage again, and play us in some intense electronica, playing off each other brilliantly as Rou and Rob make their way back to the stage.
I shan’t spoil much more, but believe me when I tell you, this is a tour you don’t want to miss. I’m still not convinced I wasn’t dreaming. An incredible set list, even better production, and relatively cheap tickets for an arena show, you aren’t losing out if you go along. Magical, wonderful, special. Thank you, Enter Shikari, you little rabble rousers, you.
Words - Adam Reynolds
Pictures - Hollie Turner