Beartooth, ‘68 and Blood Youth @ O2 Academy 2, Birmingham, 28th November 2015

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There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the Academy 2 atmosphere tonight, as Ohio riff masters Beartooth round off their UK tour in the second city. The fact that tonight’s show sold out easily – and quickly, the first venue on this run to do so – despite the fact that Beartooth have been to these parts on numerous occasions over the past 18 months is testament to what a fine and exciting prospect Caleb Shomo and company offer. The room is practically full in time for the opening act – something of a rarity even in smaller venues.

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That opening act is British metal core upstarts Blood Youth, who themselves have had a pretty decent 2015 thanks to a slot at Download Festival and a strong debut EP. Right from the off, it’s clear they have plenty of people in the crowd who are already fans and, with the high energy set they proceed to deliver for the next 30 minutes, they probably ended the evening with plenty more. That being said, there isn’t an awful lot to write home about Blood Youth; with their crunchy verses and big choruses, their skinny jeans rolled up just enough to show their ankles and boat shoes, and their synchronised pogoing, they sound and look like just about any half decent band from this increasingly over-inflated genre.

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They are by no means bad, but they are equally not going to set the world alight. While it would be unfair not to praise them for doing exactly what an opening band should do by coming on stage with a fire in their collective belly and getting the room moving, you can’t help but feel that, for the consumers of this particular tour, any band of Blood Youth’s genre could have been booked and faired just as well. Admittedly, I may well find myself in the minority amongst tonight’s crowd but for all that Blood Youth can keep a room watching them for half an hour, it’s very tough to find something really distinctive about them.

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The same definitely cannot be said for Atlanta duo ’68, who are next on stage and, whether you like them or not, are certainly something you won’t have seen before. For the uninitiated, ’68 is the newest project of former Norma Jean and The Chariot frontman Josh Scogin, who seems to have a true midas touch when it comes to musical endeavours. ’68 is not different; in short they are superb. Scogin’s guitar playing style sounds like no-one else, while drummer Michael McClellan is a ridiculous talent and shows that you don’t need lots of drums to make lots of noise.

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What’s really exciting about watching ’68 play live is that is so free forming that you just don’t know what is going to happen next. While they play a selection of cuts from their debut album, each one is filled with long-winding improvised jam sections where Scogin follows his livelier brain and McClellan does an incredible job of keeping up. Before tonight, I’d already seen ’68 play live three times and been blow away each time. But now, a year on from when I last saw them, they are even better – their constant touring has clearly given them a near telepathic understanding and they are a quite captivating watch. They also do a mean cover of Nirvana song Tourette’s, which only adds to their set’s brilliance. ’68 redefine the experience of watching a band play live and they’re improving all the time – I already can’t wait to see them again.

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And so to the headliners, the aforementioned Beartooth, who are riding the crest of a considerable wave. Since they dropped their incredible debut album ‘Disgusting’ last year they have, like ’68, been on the road constantly, including legendary sets at Slam Dunk and Download this summer. Tonight was a chance to show what they’ve learned and, my gosh, it’s impressive. Kicking off with The Lines, they set the tone their entire set. The guitars have a razor-sharp crunch, the drums sound like a herd of giants running a 100m race and everything feels faster, louder and even more fantastic than it does on record. And then there’s Shomo, who has quickly become one of the stellar front-men in modern metal leading his band-mates from riff to riff and leading the crowd in sing-along galore.

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They manage to pack plenty into their 45 minute set, including big hitters from their debut album such as Relapsing, I have a Problem and In Between, and the energy levels maintained by both band and crowd are hugely impressive. I lose count of how many times Shomo manages to get the whole room bouncing, while bodies keeping flying over the front barrier to give security something to do. Beartooth also make the most of being able to play a longer set than we’re used to seeing them do in this country, by giving Keep Your American Dream a somewhat rare outing, as well as dipping into their début EP from 2013 and playing Pick Your Poison, aided admirably by Scogin.

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They round off the main part of their set with the rampaging Beaten In Lips, which leaves the room screaming for ‘one more song’ before the night is done. The band duly obliges by returning for a furious and thrilling run through of Body Bag, that has the room singing back to the band at the top of its collective voice and the band responding by leaving everything they have on the stage. Tonight was nothing short of a triumph for Beartooth and proved that the sky really is the limit for them. With a new album imminent expect their next visit to these shores to be in a far bigger venues. They are going to be huge – make sure you don’t miss out.

Review and photographs – Dave Musson

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