Think Sum 41 are just an early noughties pop-punk band, still burning on the fuel of ‘that swimming pool video’? Think again.
Following the success of their latest album “13 Voices”, released in October 2016, the American rockers crash back into the U.K. with a sold-out show in Birmingham. In fact, many of their shows on the U.K leg of their tour have sold out, proving that Sum 41 are still relevant, despite taking a five-year break from recording.
Tonight’s openers were Canadian rockers Hollerado. A bit more grungy than the typical pop-punk band, but they failed to get the crowd going as much as most other support bands I have seen.”
The first noticeable thing about the crowd was the age range. Being 20 myself, and having been aware of Sum 41 since I was a pre-teen ‘emo kid’, there was a surprising lack of the ‘twenty-somethings’ I had expected to see. While this age bracket was present, they faded into the background in lieu of big, bald, middle-aged men, prowling around the crowd, sometimes shirtless. Other distinctive characters included an aging man, stood alone, wearing a backwards cap and clutching a digital camera close to his chest. Also, two children, no older than 10, passionately sang along from the safety of the balcony.
This being said; lead singer Deryck Whibley paused the show to declare that Sum 41 have just turned twenty, forming in 1996, so perhaps I should have been more surprised at the kids and the twenty-somethings than at the middle-agers. Nonetheless, the crowd were equally as rowdy as you would expect from the sixteen to twenty-five age bracket, if not rowdier. Although there was a distinct lack of crushing and people pushing forward as the lights dimmed, making it hard to believe that the room was holding upwards of 3000 people.
There were big circle “mosh pits” throughout the show, encouraged by Whibley, and fans fighting through the crowd to get to said areas throughout. The first song that the crowd really responded to was song three, “The Hell Song”, which was originally released in the heyday of pop-punk, hence the reaction. During said song, Whibley stops to pull three fans on stage, which at first seems cool and interactive, until all of the fans are muscled into the back corner by security, almost completely unacknowledged by the band themselves. At one point, lead guitarist Dave Baksh gives each of them a hug, but that was it in terms of interaction. In hindsight, I would bet all of them would have preferred to stay in the crowd.
The show itself was very well put together, with a balance of new songs, old songs and the well-known songs. It was, however, the technical and visual side of the show which really made it spectacular. The lighting was overwhelming during the opening of the show and the first song, “Murder of Crows”. Strobe lighting, lasers, CO2 cannons and bright flashing lights were all used within the first five minutes of the performance.
As the performance went on, the CO2 cannons were used almost sparingly, the lights became rainbow colours, illuminating the smoke in the room, balloons were thrown out into the crowd and confetti rained from the ceiling. All in all, it was an impressive use of different technical mediums to create a fantastic looking show. As for the sound; this I found to be a bit more hit and miss. The show was incredibly fun; the set list itself was no less than twenty-five songs long, with the band being on stage for just under two hours.
There were Black Sabbath covers included, as well as a cover of “We Will Rock You”, and the show ended with the band dressed up in glam metal gear performing” Pain for Pleasure”. During “Makes No Difference”, Whibley runs through the crowd to perform on the sound desk. The other band members, guitarists Dave Baksh and Tom Thacker, bassist Jason McCaslin and drummer Frank Zummo, all had considerable solos to display their talent. Kept from being boring by the fact that, for example, the guitar solos were heavy metal based rather than pop-punk.
As for Whibley himself, it is hard to believe that he almost died of alcoholism, and incredible that he managed to re-teach himself to play guitar and sing: the execution of the songs themselves was practically flawless. This being said, if you are not well-versed in Sum 41 lyrics, Whibley’s voice can fall victim to becoming the generic pop-punk whine; lyrics completely indiscernible.
It was clear that the band did not want to be playing their (arguably) most well-known song, “In Too Deep”, which lacked passion and engagement and received an anticlimactic reception from the crowd. Whibley opens the first encore with “Crash”, explaining that he always loved that song and never got to play it, so while it is understandable that a band could get bored of playing the crowd-pleasers, they are crowd-pleasers for a reason, and should still be valued like the rest of the set.
All in all, I left the show feeling rather unsure. The visual aspect was incredible, something expected of a band playing stadiums, and the structure highlighted how much time and effort must have gone into constructing it. I cannot bring myself to say the show was bad, but I did not leave with a buzz and felt the need to ask my friend how he felt, almost seeking validation for this uncertainty.
While the songs were technically flawless, some lacked enthusiasm, and the treatment of the fans invited onto the stage defies the meaning of punk entirely. Ultimately, though, the show is fun, and if you have the chance to see them, I would take it.
By Maddie Flower