Have you ever had a 45-minute stretch that made you completely forget the four hours that preceded it? That’s just what Skindred’s headlining set last night was at the Whisky a Go-Go, a palette cleanser so strong it could make you forget everything else about your world for a brief while.
For those unfamiliar, Skindred is a UK formed band from Wales. Led by singer Benji Webbe, the band has a trademark sound combining reggae and metal into an intoxicating confection. Skeptical readers might ponder, “Reggae AND metal?” Yes sir. Put your fearful inhibitions aside and indulge. Skindred takes this unlikely pairing and makes it a rambunctious, fun-loving and thrilling experience. The band started in earnest in 2002 with their breakthrough album Babylon on the now mostly defunct Atlantic Records imprint Lava. Their song and equally crazy video for “Nobody” instantly garnered them attention for their unusual and innovative blending of sounds. Not long later, Lava Records was terminated and the band found themselves without a solid US label for distribution. Three albums later they finally got proper US distribution again on Napalm Records for their 2011 release Kill the Power. That and their 2015 album Volume were excellent returns to form and featured all of the jubilant power that Babylon was known for almost 15 years back.
A criminally short performance considering their last L.A. area show was seven years back, the band played a lean 45 minutes or so, only having time for about nine songs. They opened strong with 2015 single “Under Attack.” Lead singer Webbe came out sporting thick, spiked sunglasses and had a mic stand draped in the Union Jack flag. If there was ever a way to look pimp-y in a ragga metal band, Webbe has found it. It’s apparent within moments that the band is of a higher caliber performer exuding confidence and extremely high stage presence. Webbe incites the crowd to sing along nearly every song, starting early in Roots Rock Riot song “Rate Race.” Things get crazy on Kill the Power cut “Ninja” as Webbe dives into some of his signature histrionics, punctuating the chorus with “Jah Ah Koo ooAAAYYYAAY.” As guitarist Michael Fry strums out the effect-laden opening notes of “Pressure” Webbe refuses to let the song proceed further until the crowd is literally bouncing for every note.
They also tease at fun moments from other songs they’ve loved over the years, hinting at House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” Kriss Kross’ “Jump, Jump” and Metallica’s “Sad But True” via short snippets from DJ Dan Strugess. Webbe loudly proclaims in the name of good natured fun, “No one’s promised tomorrow. Let’s enjoy the minute we got.” Appropriately from there they bring things to a proper boil with “Kill the Power,” their own ode for taking life and what it will be into your own hands. Fitting for the high level of charisma the band utilizes, the crowd is singing along for every refrain of the chorus, “Kill the power!” From there, they serve up their most powerful song, breakthrough track “Nobody.” It’s still the perfect blending of their various employed genres, Webbe flexing impressive vocal finesse in both the emotive reggae verses and the growled choruses while the band mutates between crack rhythms and driving metal. If you have even a cursory interest in “heavy” music, you owe it to yourself to experience the cathartic power of the moment in the pre-chorus on this song where Webbe howls, “Nobody gets out of this a pit alive” and the band responds in backup, “Nobody. Nobody gets out alive.”
They end off on Union Black song “Warning” which carries the momentum successfully to its last notes. As the band departs the stage Webbe stands by to allow the house speakers to play Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” (an apparent nod to their own song “Nobody”) and he humorously remains to pantomime Simon’s lyrics.
All photos by Raymond Flotat