Beartooth made it to Wembley Arena in slightly absurd circumstances. Sunday’s show was supposed to happen in Brixton Academy a year ago, but first, a certain spiky little virus got in the way, and second, the tragic incident at the original venue in December meant another venue had to be found.
Most artists affected by Brixton’s closure moved to the similarly sized Eventim Apollo, but for Beartooth, that was out of the question as, somewhat humorously, Morrissey called dibs on the Apollo for tonight first.
The challenge, then, was thrown to Beartooth: could they put on an arena show at this point in time, when they’d usually play to only a few thousand a night? Upon arrival, it was clear they’d done well shifting the extra tickets – the arena floor is sufficiently full, but, perhaps not unsurprisingly, most of the seats are hidden behind black curtains.
The more important question hanging over the night, however, is whether the Ohio rockers can scale up their performance for a room that can fit 12,000 punters. They don’t half intend on it, as frontman Caleb Shomo proclaims: “We have come to rip your faces off with high voltage rock ‘n’ roll and heavy fucking metal.”
He’s not mincing his words. Beartooth clearly relish the opportunity to play the big, bombastic rock n’ roll show of their dreams. It begins with some theatrical sleight of hand. The first we see of Shomo is his shadow behind a white sheet as he delivers the opening lines of ‘Below’ in a raspy growl. The sheet comes down, and white confetti explodes from the rafters in the first of a cavalcade of time-honoured arena tricks.
There’re mushroom cloud jets of fire, CO2 blasts and lasers galore, but the real highlight, production-wise, arrives at the end of ragged rock n’ roll number ‘Dominate’, where Shomo gleefully brandishes a flamethrower. It’s almost ridiculous, cackle-provoking even, but it’s testament to just how much Beartooth are willing to squeeze out of this curious turn of fate.
They’ve got the songs to loosen the fittings of Wembley’s roof too, whether that’s the sky-punch worthy single ‘Riptide’ or the caustic ‘Hell Of It’, while the brutally vulnerable ‘Skin’ gains a new sense of menace when brought to the stage.
Even their older material comes alive, which just as well in this setting: older hit ‘The Lines’, which arrives five or six songs in, is the first to get the punters a little further back moving, while the furious ‘Beaten In Lips’ keeps their momentum going. They still do well even if the mix – as is often the case for arena shows – isn’t exactly pristine. Certain songs such as ‘Bad Listener’ and the aforementioned ‘Dominate’, though, do suffer a little from the guitar being buried too deep under the drums.
Most of the show is light on sentimentality, but it’s emotional nadirs are crafted carefully. The opening of ‘Hated’ is stripped to its bare bones with just a piano and thin guitar line, with the crowd asked to hold their phone lights in the air, lending this outcast anthem a new sense of gravity.
The biggest capital-M moment, however, comes during the big-hearted, skyscraping anthem ‘In Between’, where the crowd take over the call and response ‘whoa-oh’ singalong Shomo initiated and continually sing it acapella. For a moment, it seems like they’ll sing it till security turfs them out at curfew, but it’s here that the love in the room is felt most profoundly and it’s wonderful to witness.
The band’s only real stumble is towards the end. Instrumental number ‘The Last Riff’ has all the potential to bring the show to a scorching conclusion, but its impact is blunted by a drum solo that sends crowd members who were contemplating an early bedtime shuffling back from the exits.
As the final power chord fades into silence, Shomo trudges off the stage – weary, but elated. And he fully deserves to be. His band has started writing their future, and it promises to be properly thrilling, if their Wembley show is anything to go by. This might be a rare occasion where a certain controversial former Smiths member is due a thank you.