LIVE: Neck Deep @ Alexandra Palace, London

By Katherine Allvey

It’s a monumental night for Neck Deep. They’ve sold out their biggest show to date at Alexandra Palace, and those of us brave enough to scale what feels like the steepest and windiest hill in London are here not only to enjoy a night of ‘generic pop punk’ (as the welshmen term themselves) but to celebrate their achievement. It’s a ‘told you so’ kind of evening, and we want to revel in the fact that we were right; Neck Deep can pack out arenas, and do it in style. 

The first thing you need to know about the inaugural Neck-Deep-Massive-Show is that they do not stop, ever, cramming twenty four songs into ninety minutes with barely a breath caught between songs to acknowledge that they’re in what vocalist Ben Barlow calls ‘Ally Fuckin Pally’. The other thing to realise is that they are incredibly organised, dividing their setlist into two or three song chunks which represent the main punk emotions like an anarchic version of ‘Inside Out’; political anger, introspection, romance, euphoria and Blink 182. The section that could be titled ‘Sad But Dealing With It’ is what gets the small but dedicated pit started. ‘Sort Yourself Out’ comes across more earnestly without the studio gloss, and ‘Lowlife’ acquires a grungy Offspring energy, its throwback absurdism exaggerated by Barlow’s rasping stretch. 

It’s the political instalment of Neck Deep’s set which provides a stark contrast to the rest. Silhouetted in red, Barlow takes a soapbox moment. “People are afraid to say what’s right and do what’s right. Fuck every CEO and corporation decimating poor and impoverished countries for their own gain. They don’t give a fuck about you. What’s happening in Palestine is one of the great crimes of our age,” he declares before launching into the frankly blinding ‘Need More Bricks’ that channels Anti-Flag at their most incendiary. ‘Don’t Wait’ follows with more riotous energy, all Fat Mike linguistic dark comedy with a sense of moving from their inner world to exterior concerns like they’re breaking their own script. It’s heavy handed and unsubtle but sometimes a message needs to be blunt to be effective. While it doesn’t get the pit flowing, the politics is arguably the most interesting part of Neck Deep’s show, raising the question about why they don’t fully lean into this aspect of their sound which they obviously excel at. 

“We can switch it up in a matter of seconds,” jokes Barlow. “Who here is in love?” The emotional whiplash by switching into ‘When You Know’ is mitigated by the passionate singalong which instantly transmits a sense of comfortable euphoria like the smell of freshly cut grass or a sitcom where the teens are played by actors in their thirties. ‘She’s A God’ comes across as the right mix of tender and a little naive, and lands right on target with the girls in the crowd. ‘What Did You Expect?’, the ‘first song we ever wrote’, begins the transition into the ‘Sounds Like Blink’ chapter and flows seamlessly into the whimsical ‘Take Me With You’. So many of us in the crowd have been following Neck Deep since they began and this pairing feels pleasantly cyclical. “We never thought that this song would do anything at all, it was just a cheesy love song and here we are all these years later, just playing this crappy love song…” grins Barlow, and there’s a tangible bursting of unresolved tension, a magnetic connection between us and them as ‘A Part Of Me’ opens. We fling the vocals back to Barlow and he opens his arms to bask in stained glass light. ‘We’ve got to end it on a big old singalong,” he smiles as a forest of phones grows like grass after rain to the opening chords of ‘December’ A crowd surfer holds up an unfurled umbrella and waves it just off time with the beat. Overwhelming achievement and satisfaction fill the air on this winner’s lap of a closer. 

Even the wait for the encore is very short. We’re invited into Neck Deep’s personal circle with ‘They May Not Mean To (But They Do)’ and ‘Can’t Kick Up The Roots’, and finally the pit they’ve been begging for since the start stretches all the way through the crowd. But it’s ‘In Bloom’ that really shakes us with emotional resonance as rays of hope and solidarity encompass us all. They’ve finally done it. Neck Deep Have finally hit the big time. A mutual glow pours out, candy coloured with a bass whirl, and we’re struck with the sincerity of their appreciation. The question now is: where do Neck Deep go from here now they’ve definitively confirmed they can fill a vast arena with joyful (and definitely not generic) pop punk?