Review: Highly Suspect – O2 Forum Kentish Town, 08/02/2018
Almost a year has passed since Highly Suspect last toured the UK, but it’s been an uncharacteristically quiet one for the rock ‘n’ rollers. After releasing two full-length albums in the space of 16 months, the Massachusetts trio have presumably spent the past year working on what will eventually become their third album.
The queue outside snaked around the venue and down an alleyway, fans braving the chilly February evening to secure a place close to the stage. Bursting through the doors they were greeted by DJ Redbees, who performed at the start of the evening and later filled the time between Welles and Highly Suspect. With both bands falling on the heavier side of the rock spectrum, the thumping, repetitive bassline was completely incongruous. It wasn’t too surprising that the majority of people in the audience seemed to completely tune out the music, making the cheer when Welles appeared all the more enthusiastic.
Until 2017 Welles was known as Jeh Sea Wells, but last year’s rebrand saw him joining forces with a band and beginning to perform under a new name. Squeezing seven songs into a half an hour set, Welles heavy rock sound perfectly complemented Highly Suspect and explained why they’re both signed to 300 Entertainment.
Although it was a relief to hear guitars and drums after the ceaselessly looping dance beat, the majority of Welles’ songs verged on bland. Into Ashes had interesting guitar lines but extremely repetitive lyrics, while Seventeen – a song which “is about being seventeen” – plodded along at a remarkably slow pace.
However, the boring tracks were alternated with frenetic, absorbing pieces. Rock ‘n’ Roll builds slowly but eventually reaches an explosive outro, while Life Like Mine was a brilliant closer and left the crowd begging for more. Codeine – “about doing druuuuuuuuuuuugs” – promoted the rockstar lifestyle, and got the majority of people in the audience nodding their heads.
Welles have a lot of potential, but they haven’t quite worked out how to use it yet. They’re definitely worth keeping an eye on, though, if only because Wells vocal tone is utterly unique and helps them stand out from the crowd.
How Sweet It Is To Love
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Hold Me Like I’m Leaving
Life Like Mine
After another half an hour of DJ Redbees, it was finally time for Highly Suspect to take to the stage. With DJ Redbees closing his set by playing F.W.Y.T., the Grammy-nominated rockers were welcomed to the stage with their own song, and they dived into their set at a breakneck pace.
Playing Bath Salts, Lost and Bloodfeather back-to-back caused the audience to explode into action, beers being thrown in all directions as they warmed up their dancing shoes. Starting with three of their heaviest songs – undoubtedly fan favourites – was a brave move, but it worked perfectly. The crowd were sucked into the set from the start, and their attention hardly wavered for the entirely of Highly Suspect’s stage time.
Pausing for a moment before Viper Strike, vocalist Johnny Stevens shared that there were “a couple of things to keep in mind about America: I want to have sex with all of you, and fuck President Trump!”. The jeering crowd elicited an uncharacteristic smirk from the usually solemn Stevens, before he mumbled his way through the opening verse of their vitriolic attack on Trump.
Slowing things down after Fuck Me Up, it was time for bassist Rich Meyer to take over vocal duties. Although Round and Round doesn’t appear on either of Highly Suspect’s studio albums, a large amount of the crowd must have been close followers of the band as they still sang along to every word.
In fact, the crowd only stopped singing for one song: the untitled new song which the band sneaked into the set after Lydia.
As you can hear, it’s quintessential Highly Suspect. If this is the direction that their third album is going in, it’s extremely promising: they’re a band who’re sticking to their roots, not allowing the success of second album The Boy Who Died Wolf to go to their heads, while still developing in an almost rap-rock direction reminiscent of Prophets of Rage.
Wrapping up the set with the double-hitter of Claudeland and ATL, Stevens quipped, “I think it’s time for a dance party!” If you’ve seen Highly Suspect before, you’ll know that ATL is often split in half with a drum solo, and the band went bigger and better than ever before, allowing half an hour to elapse between the beginning of Claudeland and them leaving the stage before the encore. Stevens even had a sneaky smoke on stage, effortlessly embodying the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that Welles were trying so hard to promote.
Saving some of their best songs until last, the band performed a five song encore featuring three of their biggest singles: Little One, Serotonia and My Name Is Human.
When the latter finished a notable amount of the crowd began melting away into the night, but anyone who left early missed a special closer in the shape of Look Alive, Stay Alive. Following the melancholy, heartrending Wolf, Look Alive, Stay Alive showed the band using up the last of their energy, drummer Ryan Meyer handing over his sticks to an unidentified player as he dived into the crowd.
It’s impossible to resist having fun at a Highly Suspect show. There wasn’t a person in the room who left without a huge grin on their face, sweating pouring down their limbs from the exertion of dancing for over 90 minutes. With that anticipated third album hovering elusively on the horizon, Highly Suspect are only going to get bigger and better from here.
Fuck Me Up
Round and Round
– (untitled new song)
My Name Is Human
Look Alive, Stay Alive
I’m going to be retouching the images within the next couple of days, because I’ve started using a new photo editing software and I’m really not getting on with it. Apologies for the low quality shots, but I needed to get the review up and I thought it was better to have something rather than nothing!