- The Heavy kicked off their UK tour in style at Birmingham’s O2 Academy2 on Thursday May 12th 2016
- In what was an impressive return, frontman Kevin Swaby orchestrated the crowd with ease; instructing them to bounce, dance and sing along
- Support on the night came from Canada quartet, JPNSGRLS
If you have no idea who they are, think again. If you watch films, sports, adverts or even wrestling then there’s a damn good chance you’ve heard at least one song by The Heavy. Tonight, upstairs at the O2 Academy, there is a room absolutely packed into a near sell out (some dates on the tour have already oversold) to see the first night of the UK tour for the neo-soul rebels from Bath.
Opening for The Heavy is JPNSGRLS (pronounced Japanese Girls), who are a Canadian 4-piece indie band. Some light foot stomping ensues as they play probably their best known effort ‘Southern Comforting’, but as is so often the case, tonight’s crowd are here for the main event.
Entering the stage to an explosive reception, The Heavy are now playing with an extra guitarist, an organist and a gospel singer, allowing them to replicate the various layers and parts seen in their recorded output. There are soaring strings and horn ensembles, and whilst the band could probably do the songs justice without them, it’s a really good job they don’t try.
Opening with 2012’s ‘Can’t Play Dead’, lead singer and all around showman Kevin Swaby is a life force. He spends the whole show right in the face of every person in the audience, despite never leaving the stage. He warbles and croons like Joe Cocker, and moves like Janice Joplin. It’s by no means a one-man band, but it’s obvious who the front man is.
The set seems short considering there is only one support act, but it actually clocked in at about an hour and a half. The strutting style of the soul elements in the music helps the time fly by, and the set list borrows from all four of the band’s albums, not least the newest release Hurt & The Merciless. Crowd favourites ‘Short Change Hero’ and ‘Big Bad Wolf’ beat the crowd into submission as they are forced to get involved. Swaby won’t allow the bouncing to stop, as his hand thrusts up and down like a puppet master controlling the movements of everyone in the room.
The new album closes out the show with ‘What Happened to the Love?’, and the band down tools and bugger off without so much as a goodbye. We all know there’s an encore due, and why be coy about it.
Swaby is thankful and appreciative of the support from the local fans, and to be fair this is a very good crowd. “So we hear you like to rock in Birmingham?” The band are noodling away on their instruments as they start jamming along to…no…really? Seriously? Oh good lord they’re playing War Pigs?!
It’s just a tease though, before they have chance to launch into industry’s swan song, they are being counted into another new one, the amped up, JB inspired ‘Slave to your Love’, and it sets a perfect bedrock for what’s to come. The two closing numbers (which have been flogged to death on TV both here and stateside) are still, actually, the two finest moments of the evening.
‘What Makes a Good Man?’ and ‘How You Like Me Now?’ are tight, well-rehearsed workhorses of songs, and the best part is they don’t look bored of playing them. But how could they be? The bouncing, sweating dancefloor explodes as soon as the opening bars hit and Birmingham is privy to a performance which has been seen by the likes of various international festival stages and late night talk shows for years, and it’s well worth the wait.
“This is exactly how we wanted to start the UK leg of the tour” shouts Swaby, thanking the people. He knows he’s knocking this out the park, and whilst we’ve no idea what the future holds for the band, anybody who gets to see them on this tour might be looking at a band at its peak. Well worth the effort and a perfect night out to take friends who’ve never heard of them. “ohhhh, I know this one…!”
Photographs by Paul Reynolds