Over the last couple of years, it seems as though more and more British bands have been stepping up to bigger stages, with the likes of Architects in particular really seeming to hit their stride in recent times. Enter Shikari are another such band, having packed out arenas and topped festival bills across the country during their last few major excursions. Now embarking on a second leg of a mammoth touring run that began back at the tail end of 2018, in continuing support of 2017’s The Spark, we caught up with the band, plus support acts Palaye Royale and Black Peaks, at Liverpool’s O2 Academy to see if their ferocious live reputation still stands.
With seemingly very little time between doors opening and their set beginning, Black Peaks (7) unfortunately find themselves playing to far fewer people tonight than their rather excellent musical output probably deserves. On this occasion, the venue’s sound system doesn’t quite appear to be playing ball with Black Peaks’ more complex nuances (Will Gardner’s vocals in particular finding themselves more than a touch overpowered at several points), but through sheer impassioned performance, the band just about manage to overcome and deliver a strong opening salvo with which to start the evening. Kicking off with fan-favourite Glass Built Castles sees the quartet on strong footing right from the start, but it’s the run of songs from last year’s excellent All That Divides that really seals the deal; the likes of Can’t Sleep and The Midnight Sun showcasing the Brighton outfit’s knack for marrying sludgy prog-metal with unexpectedly powerful hooks. It’s complex, abrasive-sounding music, but a good chunk of the assembled crowd seem to get the deal very quickly, and Gardner and co. are able to leave having likely converted a fair few to their cause.
Faring less well however are current media darlings Palaye Royale (4), who seem to suffer even worse from the O2 Academy’s acoustics, and whose distinctly indie/glam-rock stylings feel more than a touch out of place on tonight’s otherwise heavy bill. Despite a small contingent of clearly ultra-dedicated fans from their “Soldiers of the Royal Council” fandom clearly being visible in the first few rows, the overwhelming feeling from the remainder of the audience seems to be one of near-total apathy; with the likes of You’ll Be Fine seemingly failing to really land with much impact at all, and doing very little for many of the punters present. At their best sounding like a fairly pedestrian pastiche of classic glam-rock stalwarts like T-Rex; and akin to a plodding Arctic Monkeys tribute band in makeup at their very worst, the truth tonight is simply that the “fashion-art rock” outfit don’t really seem to do much that hasn’t already been done better by many other bands over the course of the decades since glam-rock first came about. Songs like Fucking With My Head coast along with such forced edginess too that it quickly becomes difficult to really take Palaye Royale all that seriously, and the only real response for the entirety of their set seems to come from the aforementioned super-fans. Even frontman Remington Leith’s brief excursion out into the crowd and towards the back of the room as the end of their set draws near fails to really spark the levels of excitement you’d really hope for from a band who currently seem to be viewed in some circles as the potential next big thing, and it’s all in all just a bit underwhelming and confusing to watch.
Fortunately though, if there’s one band in Britain whom you can basically always rely on to be great in a live environment, it’s tonight’s headliners Enter Shikari (8). This occasion is absolutely no exception either; as the St. Albans electronicore titans seem to capture the entire room from the moment they step on stage until the moment they leave it some two hours later. As the strains of intro tape The Spark ring out across the packed room, a set of towering mirrored neon lighting rigs roar to life and the band kick into bouncy opener The SIghts. What essentially follows is a glorious celebration, for multiple reasons, of one of the country’s very best bands. Not only is tonight frontman Rou Reynolds’ birthday, but as he goes on to explain in between sips of gin, 2019 in general also marks the 10th anniversary of Shikari’s beloved second album Common Dreads. As such, over the course of the evening, we’re treated to no fewer than 7 cuts from said record; ranging from the anthemic rallying cry of Step Up, to a mid-set consecutive run of Halcyon, a furious rendition of Hectic, and part-ballad-part-rave monolith Gap In The Fence. In amongst the Common Dreads cuts however, is a collection of songs that could give Shikari genuine claim to one of the best catalogues in modern rock music. Throwing out a track as titanic as Labyrinth merely third in the running order might as well be a metaphorical “show us what you’ve got” to the audience, as bodies begin to fly everywhere in mosh-filled delight; whilst newer material like the drum n’ bass flavoured Rabble Rouser and funk-stomp of The Revolt of the Atoms prove the band’s ongoing dedication to exploring musical variance in its most extensive forms. Nowhere is that variance more cheekily evident tonight either as during the moment when the band simply switch-up from the middle of Mothership straight into a cover of Faithless’ 1995 club banger Insomnia and suddenly turn the O2 Academy into a packed-out nightclub rave for a couple of minutes.
It’s not all full-throttle riffing, mosh pits and madcap electronics either; as the arrival of a piano onstage leads to the most tearjerking moment of the night as Rou leads a hundreds-strong chorus on the beautifully-affecting ballad Airfield in a moment that genuinely feels somewhat life-affirming. It’s a perfect lead-in to Undercover Agents’ stadium-sized choruses and a quick blast of classic No Sleep Tonight, before Shikari throw yet another curveball into the mix and throw out as-yet-unreleased track and tour namesake Stop The Clocks – to which a genuinely shocking amount of people already seem to know most of, if not all of the words to. With barely any time to recover oneself, Rou then heralds the arrival of Shikari’s most recent creation – The Quickfire Round. Put simply as “four songs in around 8 minutes”, it’s a madcap speedball of a medley that sees the band open with the iconic Sorry You’re Not A Winner, before going on to add to a live mash-up that also encompasses The Last Garrison, …Meltdown and the Reso remix of Anaesthetist in easily one of the high points of the entire evening, and one that the pre-warning of needing to be fit and ready for feels very much appropriate. To cap things off after the briefest of breaks, Enter Shikari then return for a final pitch-perfect encore of Juggernauts and Live Outside that sees deafening blue and white confetti cannons going off for the third time in the set as they bring the Liverpool crowd home with a thunderous racket of sheer musical bliss.
Those in the know were likely already aware of just how good Enter Shikari tend to be in concert, and for those few who might have been unsure going into this show, tonight has easily proven that to be an indisputable fact. With slots at Reading & Leeds and Download now both in the books for this summer too, we can only hope that 2019 goes on to herald the true Summer of Shikari.