Arena gigs can be a double-edged sword. It’s great to see bands you enjoy and follow over time making their way up the rock and roll ladder. Then you end up in an arena and miss the intimacy of those smaller gigs. I wondered how Danish rockers Volbeat would handle the transition.
Volbeat – Skindred – Napalm Death
Glasgow Ovo Hydro – 15 December 2022
Words: Ian Sutherland
Photography: Ya Cheng
In an interesting triple bill, the first slot of the night went to Napalm Death. The Extreme Metal pioneers are a band who I certainly never saw as an arena outfit back in the day, but fate prevented me from seeing how they coped with the surroundings.
Horrendous traffic doubled my usual journey time, so I missed their set completely. Eyewitnesses said they were loud and heavy and full of attitude, but I’d expect no less.
Next up were Welsh Metal beatmasters Skindred, another outfit working their way up on the strength of their live performances.
A thoroughly experienced and confident band now, they know how to bring the party to any size of stage or event, and frontman Benji Webbe soon had the crowd doing all the participation stuff they’re known for.
With the new album Smile not released until next year, they still included songs like L.O.V.E.(Smile Please) and an impressive Gimme That Boom. The rest of the set mostly and sensibly focused on old favourites and, of course, their trademark comedy skits! A Skindred show is always full-on fun.
An arena full of happy faces was delighted to groove and sing along to That’s My Jam, erupted in laughter at Benji chasing a rogue band member around Volbeat’s circular stage ramp to the Benny Hill Theme and filled the room full of whirling t-shirts in their traditional Newport Helicopter finale during Warning.
This slot was probably designed to win over some new fans for the band, but from what I could tell, most people here already knew them and loved them. Either way, this was another feather in Skindred’s cap, and bigger venues await their next headline tour.
The last time Volbeat hit Glasgow, they played the city’s O2 Academy venue, but now they’re in the Hydro, so the stage set needs to grow accordingly. Design-wise, they opted for a variety of screens to show films and project images and cartoons onto, plus a large circular ramp with a pit in the middle for a select few to get an up close and personal view of the show.
The staging side of things ticked off, the most important part was still left to be proved. Could they carry their sense of energy and fun and melodic musical Metal style into a bigger room? Of course, there was only one answer, and that was a sizzling, effervescent yes.
As is the way for many of us right now, frontman Michael Poulsen admitted he was suffering from a heavy cold, so the vocals were occasionally more of a strain for him than usual. I think the sweat on his brow was more than just the heat of the lights, but what a stellar performance he still put on.
Leading from the front and often way out in the crowd on the giant ramp, he sang and played his heart out, having fun along the way but mostly making sure the melodic edge to their meaty back catalogue was fully present.
The rest of the band, all fine musicians, kept everything grounded and centred. Volbeat aren’t really a flashy band, but guitarist Rob Caggiano can rip it up when he wants to, and the Larsen’s rhythm section of Jon and Kaspar Boye defined the word solid all night.
They even rolled on a couple of ZZ Top lookalikes on piano and saxophone on some tunes to add a little colour to the sound.
What really stands out about this band, though, is the songwriting. Their albums have been consistently strong, and they have a plethora of great tunes to choose from. They can easily throw in an old favourite like Lola Montez or Sad Man’s Tongue to get the crowd singing, but that’s not because they need to.
They can do full-on rolling boogie Metal like Seal The Deal or Die To Live, irresistible melodic Metal rolling thunder like opener The Devil’s Bleeding Crown and hook-filled mid-paced earworms like Step Into Light. A seemingly endless selection of quality tunes is at their disposal. Which is the real reason they’ve risen to this rock ‘n’ roll level.
A four-song encore culminating in a rip-roaring run through the reggae-tinged Still Counting ended a fabulous evening. Poulsen hinted that his voice struggles meant they were quitting early, and it looks like Glasgow got a couple of songs less than previous dates on the tour, but that’s of little import.
The main thing is Volbeat did come and seal the deal. They are a band worthy of arenas and damn good at playing in them. Roll on the next tour.