A Updated

This has been one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time

Manchester: Manchester Academy – 14 April 2023

It was an unusual state of affairs for me tonight in that in all three cases this would be the first time I’d seen any of these bands playing a live show. First up were Eva Under Fire, a band whose album ‘Love, Drugs And Misery’ was released in 2022 and was a record that I thought was excellent. It would be interesting to see if the band could replicate the high energy levels within this album in a live show setting. It was clear there was a lot of interest in the band amongst the crowd as the venue was unusually full for the first support act, and it was apparent that people in Manchester had made the effort to arrive early for their set.

Singer Eva Marie hits the stage performing a high kick and the band begin with a smoking hot version of ‘Comatose’, which is a lot heavier than the album version and gets things off to a great start. Eva throws herself around the stage like a maniac and it quickly becomes apparent that the rest of the band are no slouches either. The sound is surprisingly good for the Academy and the crowd have already created a healthy mosh pit surprisingly early in the proceedings. ‘Heroin(e)’ is up next and guitarist Rob Lyberg is on fire here, throwing all the shapes and proving to be a musician of the highest quality. The next track is a cover of the Journey song ‘Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)’ and was unexpected to say the least in such a short set, but it was an excellent rendition and suited the style of a band that has completely reinvented itself since its initial inception in 2015. ‘Coming for Blood’ follows and rhythm guitarist Christopher Slapnik steps up to the plate for this one. Shamelessly adorned in a onesie, he has proved himself to be a master showman during this set and it’s great to see an artist who is so clearly enjoying himself. My favourite Eva Under Fire song is ‘Unstoppable’ and it whipped the audience up into a frenzy tonight with Ed Gawlik and Dave Miller providing a hugely impressive backbone to this monster of a track. The set is closed out with ‘Blow’ and is a suitably storming finale to a great set. The biggest complement I can pay to the band is that I’d have had no qualms paying to see them headline this venue tonight, and the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down to the acts that were to follow.

Like A Storm were next up to the plate and were clearly ecstatic to be here. I preferred their earlier albums to their later works, simply because I feel they are better without the occasional introduction of Death Metal vocals and should definitely stick with their own unique brand of Prog Rock and high energy Rock music. Luckily they veered towards the latter tonight, and while they suffered from the occasional technical issue they turned in a really solid set. They stormed through their recognisable big songs such as ‘The Devil Inside’ and ‘Become The Enemy’, before surprising the crowd with a bouncing cover of AC-DC’s ‘T.N.T’ which again had the place rocking. They closed out with ‘Love The Way You Hate Me’ and left the stage to really appreciative applause from the Manchester crowd. I’d definitely see them again - where else are you going to see a band that brings two huge didgeridoos out on to a stage?

Skillet enter the stage just after nine and are straight down to business, blasting out ‘Feeling Invincible’, ‘Rise’ and ‘Surviving The Game’ in short order. Not for the first time in the Academy we have the strange occurrence of the vocals sounding too far down in the mix compared to the opening acts, but this is soon corrected. The first half of the set reminds you just how many big songs Skillet have in their repertoire and the band are all on point tonight. John Cooper stalks the stage while Korey Cooper throws her guitar and herself around like a whirling dervish. Literally the only criticism I could make would be that when Jen Ledger vacates the drum podium to join in on vocals for the likes of ‘Hero’ she sounded slightly flat at times to me, although the people around me were somewhat mystified by my comment.

Skillet are a Christian Metal band, and John will never shy away from mentioning his faith. He has this at a pitch perfect level though and does enough to get his message across without appearing preachy. He subtly introduces his message via some of the band’s lyrics for those who are interested, although some people around me professed mock disappointment that the band no longer hand out bibles to the crowd after the show. The band fly through ‘Whispers In The Dark’ and ‘Psycho In My Head’, proving once and for all that they are one of the very best live acts around. Special mention must be made of John donning two smoke cannons on his arms and blasting huge clouds of smoke above the crowd’s head. The set closes out with ‘Monster’ and ‘Rebirthing’, before John announces that the band only have time for one more song. Mock booing from the crowd quickly turns into cheers as the band launch into ‘The Resistance’ from their 2016 album ‘Unleashed’. The singer and both guitarists are standing on the risers head banging, all the while encouraging the audience to clap and dance. The show finishes to deafening cheers before the audience disappears into the night, leaving me to reflect on the fact this has been one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time and I look forward to seeing all three bands again in the near future.

Graeme Wright

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