LIVE: Rancid @ OVO Wembley Arena

By Alex Sarychkin

There is another timeline where Rancid take to the stage at Brixton Academy, with its iconic sloped floor, sticky from decades of lager. It’s a timeline where the venue’s life does not hang in the balance, as it sits defiant in the face of Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police, who seem to think its continued existence is untenable. Undoubtedly, safety of punters and employees is paramount. Countless gigs (including this one) take place without incident each day across the country. It is hoped that the Academy does not go the way of other London institutions over the years – The Astoria, The Borderline, Earls Court – lost to the annals of time, one less option for the gig-goer, one less place to have a night to remember.

It also sets a new challenge for a bands like Rancid, The Skints and The Bronx, who’s music fits so perfectly with the intimate confines of a smaller venue. In the case of the headliner, by now well into their third decade without including time spent in Operation Ivy, it is a sound synonymous with sweat and bounce. In the large chamber that is Wembley Arena, there was always a risk that the chance of seeing the whites of Tim Armstrong’s eyes would be lost. Thankfully, for all three bands, the energy never fades – these are three acts still capable of pulling you in even in the echoes of the Arena, who still haven’t quite figured out how to make guitar music work in the space. Walking into the hall, we were suddenly taken back to 2004, to one of the (first) final blink-182 shows – the ambient guitar noise flickering from this wall to that wall. It was the same almost nineteen years later – but then Wembley Arena has fallen well down the priority for bands touring the UK, and perhaps this may kickstart a resurgence and possibly some investment in new equipment.

By now, The Bronx are elder-statesmen of American punk rock, taking their influences and reproducing a real vitality and energy as they continue what always appears to be a relentless touring schedule. Frontman Matt Caughthran is electric, pulling the crowd in, lighting up the room. On ‘White Shadow’, the band bring a tightness reserved only for bands at the peak of their powers. The Bronx return to the UK later on this year to play far smaller spaces like the New Cross Inn and The Joiners, and it’s a reflection of their ability as a live act that you can be sure they’ll be just as home there as in the cavernous settings of Wembley Arena.

The same can be said for The Skints who deliver a blistering run through all things punk-adjacent, carrying the crowd as they wait for the main event. This is a band who do not seem daunted by the size of the crowd. It does make you wonder if, in another musical landscape, a UK band such as these might find themselves more regularly on stages these sizes. Much like The Bronx, their next London date will find them at Dingwalls.

When Rancid finally take the stage, you’re instantly reminded why this is a band that figures in the same breath as the great legends of punk rock. Although at points there were attempts to picture Rancid in the same conversation as Green Day, they’re far closer to The Ramones than they are to Reel Big Fish. Rancid recorded one of the all-time great punk albums in ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’ and this is a set that draws heavily from that timeless classic. However, they’re not a band who rest on their laurels.

Opening with ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ from the new album of the same name, the standard and level of songwriting is still there. The song bleeds seamlessly into ‘Roots Radicals’, which from the opening notes throws the crowd into a full singalong that doesn’t really let up until the very end. On bass, Matt Freeman is captivating. The iconic solo on ‘Maxwell Murder’ still floors you and the energy is unrelenting. Approaching this show, it was easy to forget just how many hits Rancid produced over the years, with some even being left off (this reviewer was slightly disappointed not to hear ‘Red Hot Moon’).

There is space for Indestructible’s ‘Fall Back Down’ which elicits a great sing along from the, by this point, rather inebriated crowd. And on closer ‘Ruby Soho’, the band showed that you don’t need a lot of pageantry to put on a great headlining show in a big ol’ stadium. All you need are classic songs and a crowd on your side. And in this case, Rancid certainly had both.