Albert Hall is a grandiose venue epitomising Victorian-era design, with a high ceiling and ornate plasterwork, and some rather excellent acoustics. My last trip here to see Wardruna was absolutely magical. Walking in about half an hour before the first act Northlane and the venue was already almost entirely filled with dense fog, showcasing pink purple lights and little else, and a room overflowing with excited chatter. Tonight was to prove a night of contrasts the versatile venue was filled with warm tones and cold air
Opening act Northlane struggled initially, with the acoustics amplifying the heavy electronic bass far too much and the backlit wall of fog also muting their stage presence somewhat. For a band known for its powerful and engaging stage presence with bags of charisma, it took a couple of songs before things seemed to settle. The excellent clean vocals and brighter part of their sound soon started to be heard, although visually they remained as elusive as ever.
A few songs in and the sound is settling into the majestic venue acoustics and they’re sounding rather ace, the crowd singing along, and the by the time the set finished out with ‘Bloodline’, ‘Cypher’ and ‘Talking Heads’. There was plenty of bouncing and push pits, and the crowd was having a great time.
However, as the venue became increasingly crammed for the mysterious headliners, it became clear that there was a distinct lack of gig etiquette on display tonight. Whilst queuing to be allowed into the photo pit again, I even had someone shoving and trying to physically fight me to get to the barrier, two feet away, a number of other photographers also felt notably unsafe tonight. Fortunately, we were soon escorted to the momentary safety of the photo pit.
To immense applause Sleep Token took to the stage, and I cannot fault their performance, the sound was top-notch, Vessel’s voice is magical and their set tonight was perfection. After the opening trio of ‘Chokehold’, ‘The Summoning’, and ‘Hypnosis’ we had to leave the photo pit, and that’s where the perfection of the night was sadly lost for me, normally it’s a relatively mundane job of moving from the pit to the back of the venue to take notes for the review.
By the time I made it, I was already getting annoyed at how much I’d been pushed, shoved, and even kicked. I was unable to work out if the venue had been massively oversold tonight or if this was an incredibly rude crowd. Whilst at the back of the venue, now unable to see anything more than the glow of the stage lights glinting off plasterwork, I realised it was probably both. Then began a cycle of getting into a song for a few moments before being pushed out of the way, shoved, with the venue stinking of weed.
The contrast between the crowd experience and the absolute wonders on stage was stark. This was one of the best sets I’ve seen, with one of the worst crowds, it wasn’t even safe on the balcony. The atmosphere, the sounds the lighting everything on stage was utter perfection. However, by the time the one-two of ‘Atlantic’ was followed by ‘Alkaline’, made even more special by the backing vocals. I had decided that I was going to miss the encore and get out early as this crush was likely to be dangerous, which kept my mind reflecting on recent events in Brixton. With discretion being the better part of valour I chose to leave early, which according to fellow concertgoers was a very fortuitous move, as most felt very unsafe trying to leave at the end.
I absolutely love Sleep Token, they are majestic live, and everyone should see them, but I’m not entirely sure I’d want to witness them outside of a festival environment, or at least where the safety was more assured. The behaviour of fellow concertgoers made me leave early and not only that but achieve the impossible and made me leave angry. Which is the opposite of what such a gorgeous performance should have evoked.
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WORDS AND PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE