LIVE: Highly Suspect @ O2 Forum, London

By Yasmin Brown

As the crowd waited for Highly Suspect to take to the stage, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to question whether they’d walked into the right venue. The on-stage DJ blasted tracks from Kendrick Lamar and, having chosen to precede the show with a genre entirely different from his own, front man Johnny Stevens’ infamous give-no-fucks attitude showed itself for the first time that evening. While it felt more like a club night than the lead up to a rock show, there were no grumblings to be heard regarding this decision, only anticipation of the night ahead.

It was a disorganised, messy start to the night, the hip-hop suddenly sticking out like a sore thumb in contrast to what was about to come, and yet while clearly planned, it still felt spontaneous, authentic and real – consistent with how Highly Suspect always present themselves. The band finally took to the stage following an abridged version of their track ‘F.W.Y.T’, each member taking a turn to hug the DJ who remained on stage throughout the entire show.

The first notes to ‘Bath Salts’ hit our ear drums, and what had been a very lax atmosphere suddenly took a turn as bodies slammed into bodies, sending streams of beer flying across the pit, catching unsuspecting attendees in the mayhem. This relentless energy continued throughout night, with both band members and fans giving everything they had into the evening, the stench of sweat creeping into the already stagnant air.

The very nature of the band’s music meant that there was little respite from the chaos, but they gave the crowd a much needed breather during their unreleased song ‘Round and Round’, which saw bassist Rich Meyer take the lead, introduced by Jonny as having the voice of an angel. He effortlessly lived up to this compliment, transforming the atmosphere from total chaos into something more romantic, further showcasing the versatility of the band.

Musically, Highly Suspect are a stand out in today’s rock scene. Rarely will 15 songs take close to two hours to perform, and yet the band takes every given opportunity to show off their unparalleled talent. Between numerous extended guitar solos and what must have been 10 minutes of a rapid, intricate drumming duet breaking up the two halves of ‘ATL’, there were more moments of magnificence than I can recount; moments that incited wide eyes and open mouths as fans watched in awe. Combined with Johnny’s inexplicably ethereal vocals and the understated yet effective use of echoing effects, Highly Suspect proved themselves more than deserving of the plethora of industry praise they have received over the past 3 years.

Following the climactic end of ‘ATL’, the band left the stage for a short while before a mixture of excitement and sadness flooded through the crowd as they returned for the encore. At 5 songs long, Highly Suspect really did leave the best till last, kicking it off with ‘Little One’ before launching into ‘Serotonia’ and ‘My Name is Human’ – the two most popular tracks from their latest album ‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’. After slowing it down one last time with ‘Wolf’, drummer Ryan Meyer finished his night early, diving into the crowd as his bandmates closed the night with the help of a replacement drummer.

The culmination of events that took place over the evening – whether that be downing Patron straight from the bottle during ‘Lydia’, casually lighting up a spliff, or Johnny’s tendency to bring up sex at any given moment – suggest that Highly Suspect will always do what makes them happy with little regard for what others might think of them. This attitude may have Johnny pinned as being a somewhat provocative person, but in between this nonchalant behaviour, there were even more moments that proved him to be much more than that. Whether it’s denouncing Donald Trump before launching into their most veracious song to date, ‘Viper Strike’, or asking us all to respect each other and the security guards dotted around the venue, it’s clear that this incendiary behaviour is merely a fraction of who he really is. It might have become trendy to do so, but Highly Suspect don’t need to make a speech about accepting and loving everyone for their fan base to feel safe because it’s apparent in everything they do that they strive for equality and love. And damn do they put on a good show.