Last night I went along to The Academy in Sheffield to see one of my favourite bands – Sonic Boom Six – after an email from Laila reminding me it was on. Plus it coincided nicely with my wife‘s birthday, so she got dragged along too.
Arriving fashionably late, about 40 minutes after doors opened, I was hit by a wall of sound. That’s a much overused metaphor, but it was literally like wading through a painful soup of noise. Nothing to do with the band, but just a PA turned up *way* too loud, considering it was a half empty venue with a disinterested crowd peering at a mildly uninspiring support from afar. Armed with my professional earplugs (grabbed some bog roll) I was able to listen without it actually hurting (am I getting too old for this?).
Anyway, so the first support. A bit too croony, with the singer holding notes a wee bit too long, and not enough going on with the rest of the band to capture your attention. Plus the crowd weren’t into it, meaning they fell rather flat. And I don’t know their name, an appropriate fact considering I’m giving them 3/10.
After a great chat with the delightful Adam on the merch table, covering varied subjects such as “Why Fugazi are awesome”, “Why Easy Star All Stars should do a cover called ‘Yellow Dubmarine'”, and “How old is your tshirt? It’s signed by a guitarist who left like 7 years ago!”, it was time to stumble helplessly back into the firing path of the 16 speaker PA cabinet – overkill for 100 people?
It was worth the future development of tinnitus however, since Knock Out did us proud. Kicking off with just the right amount of ska, punk and reggae, I was gripped, especially considering I’d never heard any of their stuff before. That said, the sound tonight was more suited to their punk foursome lineup than it was to SB6’s vocal driven technical precision. It was a lot of fun, especially the reggae version of “It Must Be Love” – I still don’t get how the bassist can do actions to the songs, and yet still play slamming bass lines. Still, with a final clashing song, they were done, with an 8/10 for their effort.
This was followed by a longish gap, explained by the third support band failing to turn up. They get a 1/10 – the single point because at least as a result we got a longer SB6 set.
The arrival of Sonic Boom Six was heralded by the fall of suitable mood lighting and the appearance of half the band on stage. And by half, I mean everyone except Laila. Then, amidst a whirl of guitar, mega bass and vinegar, she rolled onto the stage, and we were hit with a scattering of songs off Arcade Perfect and City of Thieves. Doing what they could with a slightly paltry crowd, most of us were quickly dancing, fist waving and sweating. “Strange Transformations” showed what SB6 could have done with a crowd 10 times bigger. With its strategically placed “aaaaahROOOOO!” howls throughout, we did our best, but a thousand voices would have made it creepily fantastic.
“The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions” had us all Beep Beeping, and then, mixed in with a few couple of songs off the latest two albums came two even newer songs, called “Bandito“, which needed more audience participation, and “Shockwave“, which was really good, with a surprisingly dub intro, or at least, as dub as SB6 get.
Barney Boom then gave a bit of a shout out – “Let’s hear it for Liberty? LIBERTY!”, which was met with rousing cheers, “JUSTICE?!”, again met with a positive crowd response, and then, “UK POLITICS?!”, accosted with a few dispassionate boos. Laughing a little sadly, he said “Well, yes. We won’t get into that now; we aren’t going to tell you who to vote for. That’s not what a band should do, we’re here to entertain you!”
All too soon, it was over, and the band disappeared off the stage for the time honoured encore. No one was fooled, specially when a sound guy came on stage to bring on a trombone – hardly the first step in packing down the set. And then they were back, with the highlight of the set “Rum Little Scallywag“, an upbeat number about a downbeat subject. Mixing in a little Specials, the skanking reached its height at this point. With two final songs, including tonight’s only Sounds to Consume number, “Rape of Punk To Come“, the evening’s entertainment was over.
So, how was it? On the one hand, it was great. Sonic Boom Six are a stalwart of the UK scene, and, having seen them about 10 times now, they were enjoyable, energetic and catchy. Yet, they were let down by the venue. My wife didn’t have a great time, because she could hardly make out any vocals – she said the sound on the speakers in the toilet was about right – but watching the stage it was all too big, too boomy, too loud. They would have been better at the Casbah, or the small room at Plug.
Aside from this, I would have liked to hear a few other hits. Laila was impressed with my nearly decade old Sonic Boom tshirt, and I think I would have enjoyed a few more songs from this era. That said, the band are probably pretty sick of “Blood for Oil” and “Monkey See Monkey Do“, plus the political climate has totally changed since them, making them no longer relevant (that was a joke, by the way). So, I’m giving them a 7/10, mostly due to poor venue sound, and the fact that I can’t quite accept that its been 6 years and I need to move on.