LIVE: The Used / The Home Team / Honey Revenge @ O2 Forum Kentish Town

By Katherine Allvey

Outside the Forum, teenagers in face paint huddle together like baby penguins, hoods and occasionally plastic bags on their heads to protect their neon hair from the stinging winter rain. While The Used are ambivalent about being labelled an emo band (they’ve insisted on interviews that they’re just “a rock band”), the audience can’t be described using any term except emo. Those of us who aren’t in a Tim Burton phase are few and far between tonight. The guys from Utah have sold out this penultimate date on the UK tour, and it’s a compliment to the universal themes in their music that their latest album has managed to attract a much younger and wider fan base some twenty plus years after their debut. 

But first, punk rock barbies Honey Revenge appear with sheepish waves. Stepping away from the safety net of studio production in their coordinated glossy pink outfits, their punk side is far more prominent live. Opener ‘Airhead’ is the sort of bitter pop that Paramore made in their early days, but there’s a serious gut-punch to the bass and funk twinges to the guitar which high-kicks their sound into the present. Agile frontwoman Devin Papadol bounces physically and vocally through candy-coated brutal honesty with ease, and it would take a heart of stone to avoid falling for their vibrant pop punk.

They’re the perfect starter for the endlessly peppy stylings of The Home Team. Vocalist Brian Butcher flicks his glossy mane, snapping between posing and freeing his soul through wails and smiles on ‘Snow Globe’. New song ‘Loud’ is familiar to most of the crowd, and while ‘sweary Maroon 5 sound alike’ was on no one’s bingo card for tonight, there’s something so very likeable in their easygoing energy. 

To quote vocalist Bert McCracken, “at a Used Concert, ‘fuck you’ means ‘I love you very much’”. From the second the radio static intro fades and the first chords of ‘Pretty Handsome Awkward’ slap and sting like a tight elastic band, a companionable antagonism is shared between band and crowd. “Everybody put their middle finger in the air,” screams McCracken as thousands of birds are flipped and take flight as we chant obscenities at him, the words robbed of any power to offend.

The frontman takes pleasure in baiting us, playing the heel with relish and encouraging rejection of concert norms. “I wanna get everyone to let all their anger, frustration and hostility out in one big boo… doesn’t that feel good? When’s the last time you got to boo a band? After the next song I want you to boo your ass off. You all make me wanna throw up in my mouth,” he grins fiendishly before launching into sinister pop punk stylings of ‘People Are Vomit’. Even the newer songs in their setlist are given the villain treatment: every note of ‘The Worst I’ve Ever Been’ is sung through gritted teeth. He spits and drops his mic in disgust, clutches his head as if in agony.

If the cartoonish antics were all there were to The Used’s set, it would be mildly entertaining at best. But, two thirds of the way through, McCracken abruptly drops the act and The Used present themselves authentically. The vocalist acknowledges his struggles with addiction and his mental health (“If there’s hope for someone like me, there’s hope for someone like you”) before an angelic chorus raises the self love disco within ‘Giving Up’. Without the taunts or dark humour, their music blooms as beautifully as the blossom pouring from the skull’s mouth behind them. He tenderly waves a rainbow flag during ‘I Caught Fire’ and something honest emerges in the spaces between each sweet note.

There’s so much unpolished loveliness in every turn of phrase, every twist in the uncut melody. ‘All That I’ve Got’ gains a huge cheer as it lightly steps into our minds, casting ripples in each note. McCracken clutches his heart feeling the same piercing wound from the lyrics that we do in a painful porcelain updraft. They pause for playful antics to salve our aching hearts in the longer, low gravity instrumental break, setting us up for ‘The Taste Of Ink’. Lungs open in time with the blunt chops of guitar and bass before it splinters and avalanches, entangled in our emotions and soft, blue waves of our own singing chill the air. The band discretely exit while McCracken stands alone, finishing with an elaborate bow.

The Used are the embodiment of “it’s not just a phase, Mum.” They begin a circle pit with a word-perfect recitation of a soliloquy from ‘Macbeth’, switching between antagonistic flame-fanning and thoughtful solidarity in the face of internal struggles. Their set encapsulated everything we love about the band, and everything that we’ve faced in the years since we first encountered their music. They have a rare gift of being able to stir numerous emotions at once, and please a far wider crowd than perhaps they first intended to with their still potent and old school emo charisma.