Here we are, my last gig of 2021, an interesting year to say the least. One which we started wondering if there’d be any live music at all. Witnessing a triumphant return of live music after so much hardship has reinforced to me the importance that Live music has on my life.
This gig has been 18 months in the making. Ward XVI after having dropped a pretty damn magnificent second album, Metamorphosis in 2020, and then almost immediately having to cancel their plans for the album launch, thanks to the ‘Rona. The postponements were genuinely heart-breaking to watch for a band who put so much effort into what they do. With the current wave of Omicron, and my own brush with Covid, Even the day before I was concerned that it might be once again postponed, or I would be unable to make it.
First time in a long time back at the Manchester Academy, I can’t say I’ve missed it. The venue staff were on usual form to the point I at one point almost ended up watching The Sweet instead. Several misdirection’s, many flights of stairs, and an admin cock up later I’m inside the venue, the atmosphere is, to put it mildly, electric.
Party-core purveyors Pulverise (holy alliteration batman) were already most of the way through bringing the party with an ace Cypress Hill cover by the time I’d gotten into the pit. A bit of a shame as they’ve always impressed me live, and I would have loved to have caught the whole thing because they were bringing one hell of a party.
Singer Jojo has a great presence on stage, multicoloured dreadlocks whipping about as the band and crowd bounced together. An absolutely solid choice for an opening act, bouncy hardcore/rap infused metal in the vein of RATM and Skindred, backed up with some infectious grooves delivered by an absolutely dynamite rhythm section.
I’d heard a lot of positive things about Bournemouth’s South of Salem but hadn’t yet gotten around to actually giving them a listen. It was immediately clear why they’ve been reaping such praise. There was enormous and very infectious energy to them, giving that kick up the backside kind of energy that tbh I rarely get from most hard rock. This felt fresh and alive, reminding me of the feeling of hearing Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind for the first time, way (way) back in the day.
They were also keen to put on a show, with the singer and guitarist taking turns in the spotlight on a riser at the front of the stage. Solid riffs, Great crowd interaction, held together with another solid rhythm section, they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. Indeed, if it weren’t for the sheer quality of the headline set, this would have been in significant danger of blowing away the headliners.
After some Motorhead between the sets, it was time for the headliners. Wow, the anticipation was palpable. Having seen them recently playing Bloodstock, where they put on one of the absolute highlights of the entire festival I had some idea of what to expect, but how would it play out on a much smaller stage? What if they just weren’t as good as that incredible South of Salem set? I had the feeling that this was going to have to be something magical. I wasn’t disappointed, Ward XVI delivered, and they delivered big time.
I sit here, days later still struggling to find the right adjectives to describe the performance and fail. Art exists to fill the void that mere words often fail to describe adequately. This show was art, absolutely everything hit the spot. The story of Psychoberrie’s Metamorphosis into the twisted serial killer of the first album The Art of Deception was rendered perfectly, with charm and charisma, which was no mean feat considering the subject matter.
They had clearly spent almost every minute since the original cancellation figuring out ways to make the set even better, and it really shows. It’s been great watching them develop over the years, from M2TM winners at Bloodstock, catching them again at SOS Festival a few years ago. When they hit Bloodstock this year it was clear they’d matured into a significant live entity, one who takes time and care and craft their performance. The stage show, the concepts, the thought process, the sheer attention to detail, only seeking to emphasise the fact they have some bloody good songs too.
I left the venue knowing full well I had just witnessed one of the top 10 gigs of my life, and this review will never quite do that sheer feeling of excitement and wanting to get out there and just start creating something.
Suffice to say if you get the chance to catch them live on their tour in 2022, then it’s an absolute must. If you don’t live in the UK, then pester your local festivals to get them booked, it’s a show you won’t want to miss. Incredible!
REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE