“Hello Manchester,” Sum 41 frontman and former pop-punk pin-up Deryck Whibley addresses the crowd in the city’s Albert Hall. “Sorry it’s taken us so goddamn long to get back.” To be precise, it’s been just under six years since the Canadian pop-punk outfit last stood under Mancunian skies, but for many, it feels a lifetime, not least Whibley. They were due in 2012 to headline that year’s iteration of this very jaunt, the Kerrang! Tour, only for the vocalist to injure his back and force a cancellation. Their topping of the bill four years later feels like a promise fulfilled and they return to a heroes’ welcome.
|Sum 41 make their live return in 2015. Courtesy of Wikipedia.|
The lower echelons of the current tour – the same slots that once delivered future rock heavyweights in the shape of Young Guns and Bring Me the Horizon – deliver seventies-indebted hard glam grooves in the enjoyable form of Biters who throw every clichéd shape in the book, and unintelligible pop-punk that is shouted into incomprehensibility by way of Eastbourne’s ROAM. For a tour that promises the best of up-and-coming rock, it all feels significantly lightweight.
This changes with the arrival of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. The ex-Gallows frontman’s new band are in possession of an uproarious racket that blends menacing hardcore punk with classic rock swagger but Carter’s mercurial qualities as a performer elevate it beyond the call of duty. He sits the crowd down for what seems to be a twisted parody of childhood story-time; a rug-pull leads instead to the aching Beautiful Death, accompanied by solo electric guitar. There’s a bruised tender side to the Londoner that feels startlingly human when contrasted with his fiery rage and impulsive gestures – it endears him greatly, particularly when he flips back to the chief instigator of chaos.
|Frank Carter, of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, live in 2015. Courtesy of Gigwise.|
“A guy just rolled across the floor like a f------ ninja,” he wittily quips at one point from his spot in the midst of the eye of a circle pit. Back on stage, he is gifted the sole of a shoe onstage to his surprise, minus the rest of the boot. His rambling diatribe on the lack of bras is remedied when the fur trimmed leather joins its rubber counterpart at the foot of his monitors. Thrillingly primeval, Carter threatens to steal the show from the headline act – and indeed does.
Whibley’s back injury marked the beginning of a rough few years for Sum 41, with the frontman suffering liver and kidney failure in 2014 due to alcoholism. Tabloid images showed a fragile husk of a man; the fact that the band survived to even return to the live stage is something to be celebrated in itself, though at first glance, it’s debatable how far Whibley has come on his path to recovery. Pale, gaunt and rake-thin, with an angular blond quiff of hair that recalls a younger Billy Idol, he thrashes his microphone stand round during ragged opener Over My Head (Better Off Dead), scattering a dozen or so toxic yellow guitar picks. The crowd feeds off his defiant posture, ecstatically throwing themselves around with careless abandon and hollering every word back loud enough during Motivation and The Hell Song to drown out Whibley’s occasionally tremulous vocals. Their brand of punk-power-pop is tried and tested, but is inclined to generate dopey smiles; at its core, it’s brilliantly daft fun.
|Deryck Whibley of Sum 41, live in 2015. Courtesy of Getty Images.|
So much of a band’s ability to connect relies on the frontman, and when Whibley is on form, there is a gleefully childish vigour about him that is both refreshing and reassuring to see, such as during a touchingly earnest Walking Disaster. But when his energy wanes, the rest of the band occasionally founder, particularly during a stretch of thrash-punk numbers when their vocalist vanishes for a break on occasion. Proceedings are not helped by a sound mix with the pitch set to waterlogged that quagmires tracks often. But the goodwill is physically palpable and a hurtling sprint through big hits Still Waiting, In Too Deep and Fat Lip, whilst messy, is deliriously received, earning a rare smile from Whibley that stretches across his drawn face. Carter may have delivered the showmanship; but Sum 41 delivered the old-fashioned fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.