CKY/Graveyard Johnnys – Birmingham, O2 Academy – 13 May 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 27 May 2017 04:30

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or at least that’s how the saying goes. With bands, absence can stoke the flames of passion, supercharging a band’s popularity to the point where they could be even bigger than they were in their glory days, or it can prove detrimental – bands falling by the wayside due to lack of activity and a failure to capitalize on any previous momentum. CKY have trodden the former path.


Opting to reform without original vocalist Deron Miller, CKY operate now as a three-piece (officially at least – live the band also feature touring member Matt Cole on synth/keyboards) as they undertaking a pretty hefty tour of the UK before the release of their first studio album in eight years, aptly titled 'The Pheonix'. CKY fans have flooded out of the woodwork to attend the tour, with sell-out dates throughout the country (including two nights at Th Underworld in Camden), this particular show getting bumped right up from Academy 3 through to the main room. This was, in retrospect, a move with mixed results.


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Openers Graveyard Johnnys are greeted with a half-full room as they step up to the plate to offer a hearty blast of rockabilly swing. Whilst such a thing is definitely not unheard of for a support band, it soon becomes apparent that this is more or less as many people as the venue is likely to hold for the evening. What really sticks the boot in however, is the fact that the cavernous main room of the Academy seems ill-suited to their music, the band’s enormous double-bass almost entirely lost in the mix. Bizarrely, you can feel the instrument being played (thanks to an insistent – and comforting – tickle in the ears) but for sound, twangy rock n roll guitars dominate.


It’s no major loss though – the band are still firing on all cylinders, sound issues or no, hammering away with a bombastic performance that would do the likes of the Big Bopper or Danko Jones proud. Driving hard with a danceable and detectable swing to their step, Graveyard Jonnys tread the line between Royal Republic like catchiness and pure rock n roll grease, a band torn out of the 1950s and given a crash course in punkish displays of hyperactivity. In a more suited venue (Academy 2, perhaps) the band could turn their charging tunes into a claustrophobic and sweaty rock n roll frenzy. As it is, the band instead enjoy a warm reception as they set heads a-banging and toes a-tapping, a frantic and almost thrashy ‘Radar Love’ proving to be a highlight of their set.


By drummer Jess Margera’s own admission, it has been 14 years since CKY last played in Birmingham. Returning to a half-sold Academy might not be the band’s dream comeback, but what this crowd lack in numbers they more than make up for in absolute rapture at seeing CKY live again. Chanting the band’s name before they’ve even hit the stage, tonight’s show feels like a return to the excitable atmosphere of some of the best gigs I ever attended in my youth. Stepping out to the intro tape ‘Gonna Fly Now’ (aka “the Rocky theme that has nothing to do with tigers”), the band return as conquering champions.


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Launching straight into the funky alternative rock beats of ‘The Human Drive (In Hi-Fi)’, CKY are determined to put the pressure on and prove they are just as great as they ever were. Much like Graveyard Johnnys before them, sound issues seem to dog the band slightly, the band’s iconic mammoth fuzz tones cleaned considerably through the PA, taking away a part of the band’s essence. But, just like for Graveyard Johnnys, it really doesn’t matter. The band still sound massive and the immediate sprawl of moshing, dancing and singing masses proves that this crowd couldn’t be happier with the band.


What ensues is a masterclass in how to ignite the passions of a crowd, the band soaking up every ounce of adoration flung their way. Ping-ponging around their back catalogue, the band fully utilise their cavalcade of absolute belters every minute they are onstage. While Chad I Ginsberg possesses an entirely different vocal style to Miller, the fact remains that he intimately understands the songs and is able to offer a different take on songs like ‘Frenetic Amnesic’ and ‘Rio Bravo’.


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Then, there’s the riffs. Enormous stompers like ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘Flesh into Gear’ please the ears as much as any Page or Morello penned riff did before them, lending the band a sense that if they had a few more songs as big as that, they’d have conquered arenas. Eclecticism is the name of the game leaveof a band like Clutch into their template without sacrificing any of their own sonic individuality, most notably apparent on ‘Shock and Terror’ and grinding new tune ‘Days of Self Destruction’.


New songs are very thin on the ground for tonight, but with the album less than a month away from release and almost entirely untested on their audience, it makes sense for CKY to stick with their extensive back catalogue of hits to get the party going. Few bands can get a crowd roaring for joy so easily as CKY do with ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’ and ‘Knee Deep’, both tunes sounding massive and fresh despite being nearly twenty years old. Returning for a brief encore, the band opt to close with a decidedly Volume 1-heavy run of ‘My Promiscuous Daughter’ and ‘Disengage The Simulator’.


Ending the show abruptly with a roaring cover of GG Allin’s ‘Bite It, You Scum’, the band leave a slightly bewildered crowd as they finish up and disappear within seconds of the end of the song. At the heart of it, the choice to close with a cover of one of punk rock’s most notorious figures feels entirely apt for the band; while they exist firmly in the realms of alternative rock and metal, the spirit behind CKY couldn’t be any more punk, right the way down to the occasional slip-up through the set as a riff slips or Ginsberg forgets the odd verse. For a lesser band, such displays would feel like a lack of commitment, at worst derailing a performance and completely losing all the goodwill and atmosphere built between band and crowd. For CKY though, it’s a chance to grin and pick themselves back up immediately, each moment forgettable as the band double down on their performance and blast just that little bit harder.


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There is a sense at the end of the show that CKY might have been better served in a totally (or mostly) sold-out environment in one of the Academy’s smaller rooms, where the punk rock-like connection between band and audience could be most fully utilised. And yet, playing in the larger room feels like a necessary statement for the band, that they have achieved a strong following throughout their career and have earned the opportunity to play the biggest rooms – and to the biggest crowds – possible. The band’s set proves that none of the excitement or energy in their music has been lost this past 20 years, that they are still a vital force in the music world and their best days are nowhere near behind them. Hopefully Birmingham (and the UK at large) won’t have to wait another 15 years or so before the band return to our shores again.


More importantly, hopefully next time we get longer with the band to hear more of their extensive and brilliant back catalogue, ‘cause 80 minutes just doesn’t feel like enough for a band with five album’s worth of material to cover.


‘The Phoenix’ is due for release on 16 June via Entertainment One.


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