LIVE: Emarosa / Sykes / Grumble Bee @ O2 Institute, Birmingham

By Mark Johnson

It’s been five years since Emarosa played a show in the UK and over that time a lot has changed. Only two members of the current line-up were present back then and the band’s sound has inevitably been through as big a shake-up as their personnel list. Before the new look Emarosa had a chance to reconnect with their UK fans, Grumble Bee and Sykes ensured the onlookers were sufficiently warmed up.

On record, Grumble Bee is the product of multi instrumentalist songwriter Jack Bennett, but on stage he enlists a couple of friends to provide the full band experience. Over the course of a busy summer, including appearances at Slam Dunk, 2000 Trees and Fort Fest, the trio have been growing in confidence and refining their performance, and the hard work is starting to pay dividends. Despite Bennett suffering with an illness, his vocals are faultless throughout and now the band have had time to gel, the instrumentals are as tight as they’ve ever been. With another EP promised before the end of the year, we’re excited to see this project develop.

Sykes may not be the closest neighbours geographically or stylistically to Emarosa, but the latter were so impressed by the British three-piece at this year’s Warped Tour they hand-picked them as their opening act. Sykes’ synth-driven pop is full of high-energy, toe-tapping rhythms that get even the most stubborn of heads bobbing and with vocalist/synth player Julia Sykes’ undeniable ability to write infectious hooks, they warm the crowd with feel-good vibes before Emarosa’s long-awaited return.

It would’ve been safe to assume that Emarosa’s older material would be off limits for these shows; it’s been five years since iconic frontman Jonny Craig left the band and current vocalist Bradley Waldon has enough material now to fill a set, with two records under his belt. Quick the disprove this assumption, the band launch headstrong into choice cuts from the Craig-era, declaring that after so long apart, their UK fans deserve the full experience. Although only two fifths of the band created this material, the new line-up replicate it perfectly and with Waldon’s technique accommodating Craig’s parts so effortlessly, it’s a shame this may be the last tour  we get to hear these songs.

That said, there’s no shortage of quality in the newer material. ‘American Déjà Vu’ and ‘Say Hello to the Bad Guy’ were some the band’s first attempts at their new alt-rock sound and still have the strength to be setlist favourites for many years to come. Emarosa’s alt-rock transformation hit new heights on ‘131’ and the record’s anthemic songs are even punchier and impactful live. This new Emarosa not only sounds good but appears to feel good too, the stage buzzing with energy from start to finish and Waldon regularly jumping into the crowd to enjoy the set from a different perspective.

It was a shame to see Emarosa fade from the spotlight during the four year period between Craig’s departure and ‘Verses’, Waldon’s first effort as vocalist, but with the excellent ‘131’ and the strength of Waldon’s vocals, the hype surrounding this band should start to grow again for all the right reasons. Hopefully the UK isn’t made to wait another five years to be reminded of how good they are.