LIVE: Sum 41 @ O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

In the springtime of 2011, Valencia was the scene of the ironically titled ‘MTV Winter’. Under the hazy night sky, the square of the city’s famous Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències was packed with fans eagerly anticipating a bill of bands at the knife edge of their career.

While headliners My Chemical Romance were riding high on the back of the release of ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’, an innovative concept album that challenged listeners with its dystopian future theme, support act Sum 41 looked a band at a perilous crossroads. As Deryck Whibley strained and visibly winced while heaving out atonal notes, the Canadian pop punks looked a band lost.

Sum 41 have always been searching for a way to redefine themselves, but without the necessary tools to do so. Having tapped into the world’s insatiable thirst for the next Green Day in the early-2000s, they enjoyed overwhelming success with their debut ‘All Killer No Filler’ and followed it up with the visceral ‘Does This Look Infected?’ just a year later.

As they flew closer to the sun, however, the wings burned away, and with missteps such as the pop-punk-by-numbers ‘Underclass Hero’ and the genre-scrambled mess of ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’, it was getting harder and harder to define what Sum 41 actually was. There were the dabbles in the emo era, but as time went by their career threatened to hit ‘Ron Burgundy finishing third in a hot dog eating contest’ levels.

In the years that followed that night in Valencia, Whibley would be hospitalised with alcoholism and Sum 41 wouldn’t release any new music for six years.

“It feels good to be on stage”, Whibley poignantly states as he addresses the Manchester crowd. The 17 years since Sum 41 released arguably their last passable album of note, the popularity of the Canadians has not dimmed. The former shipping yard that Victoria Warehouse occupies is packed to the rafters.

The collection of band t-shirts read like a who’s who of early-2000s alternative music, with everyone from Hoobastank to Papa Roach represented. It is a chance to party like its 2002 and while Sum 41 have failed to rekindle those vibes in previous visits, this feels like a band refreshed. There is a whole new energy to Whibley, who plays with the freedom of a man seemingly unburdened by his demons.

The explosion of light and sound that greets the frantic opening, including stone cold classics of ‘Motivation’ and ‘The Hell Song’, transports us back to a time of baggy jeans, spiked hair, and Kerrang! on TV. The welcome return of former guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh has clearly reinvigorated the band and brought back those signature shredding metal riffs.

There are no missteps tonight as Sum 41 rattle through a hit-laden set that demonstrates a range that we thought had been lost. It is delicately pieced together, with the brooding ‘Jessica Kill’ proving that ‘Screaming Bloody Murder’ did have some glimpses of brilliance. Whibley commands circle pits in the hardcore-lite ‘We’re All to Blame’, while new single ‘A Death in the Family’ provides hope that a return to form in the studio could be on the cards.

Whibley himself dips into the Billie Joe Armstrong book of stage presence with various “way-ohs”, conducting a constantly eager crowd. After a punked up version of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, Whibley gives the ravenous hordes what they came to see with the double salvo of ‘In Too Deep’ and the raucous ‘Still Waiting’. And, let’s be honest, these are two tracks that only get better with age.

There is just time to squeeze in a celebratory ‘Fat Lip’ to cap off what feels like a comeback show. While the square of Valencia’s premier arts centre may have proved to be the nadir of Sum 41’s career, eight years later in a warehouse in a Manchester dock it feels like they have been reborn.

The Canadians have got their groove back.