Live review: Skindred at OVO Arena Wembley, London

Newport’s finest, Skindred, bring their religion to the masses at biggest-ever headline date in London. Bow down!

Live review: Skindred at OVO Arena Wembley, London
James Hickie
Paul Harries

“Wagwan Wembley!” This isn’t a greeting you hear everyday at this venue. And certainly not delivered by a tipsy black Welshman in a sequinned waistcoat with a penchant for leading 10,000 people through a dubstep version of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). Welcome, then, to an evening with Benji Webbe and Skindred – where ragga meets metal meets confetti cannons and scything lasers.

“This is not just another concert,” frontman Benji tells us at one point. “This is a celebration of life!”

While he’s right – and a fucking great one it is, too – this is also a celebration of Skindred, the Newport band that has stayed the course for a quarter of a century, being themselves and doing so brilliantly. And now, having supported the likes of Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed and KISS in some of the UK’s bigger venues in recent years, they’re deservedly getting their turn to be the bride.

Kudos to whoever booked P.O.D. as tonight’s main support, a pairing that makes sense on multiple levels. Having formed in 1992, they’ve been doing this even longer than Skindred, similarly never chasing trends but ploughing their own furrow, even if the San Diegans have come in and out of favour during that time.

With nu-metal nostalgia still in full swing, it’s little surprise that Boom, Youth Of The Nation and Alive go down a storm. All three hail from the same album, 2001’s Satellite, which makes it clear when P.O.D.’s most white hot period was. Thankfully, new cuts Drop and Afraid To Die, from forthcoming album Veritas, are similarly well received and pack the same almighty choruses, powered by the convulsing momentum of their frontman, the seemingly ageless Sonny Sandoval.

It would be disingenuous to suggest Skindred haven’t been rewarded for their endeavours over the years, having played to the world’s biggest crowds and garnered a reputation as one of the UK’s most incendiary live bands. Seeing the band reach these new heights in this, their third decade, however, is something very special indeed. It shows us it’s never too late for an invigorating new chapter, whether that’s conquering this legendary venue under their own banner, or winning a MOBO Award in the Best Alternative Music Act category, as they did last month.

Despite these high profile endorsements, outsider status remains a point of pride for Benji. When interviewed for Skindred’s K! Cover Story last August – another first for them – their frontman acknowledged his band weren’t as hailed as many of their peers, but that was fine by him. “It’s supposed to be like this,” he suggested. “We’re the alternative.”

Tonight therefore feels like a victory not just for our headliners, but for the misunderstood and the marginalised. What greater proof is there than seeing everyone enthusiastically join Benji in holding their fists aloft before Kill The Power, imagining that the negative influences in their lives, the haters and the doubters, are crushed tightly in those raised hands. Benji, the man who at 14 knew he wanted to make music that fused styles and brought people together, wouldn’t let anyone get near his ironclad dream. After all, as he sings during Kill The Power: ‘Ain’t no killing what cannot be killed.'

It’s no coincidence that Skindred’s recent upward spike has come after the release of Smile. The band’s eighth studio album, their best in a decade and the most effective distillation of their sound to date, was the subject of a close-run chart battle, which saw its authors reach Number Two. Hearing songs from it tonight, it’s clear why. Set Fazers possesses the kind of seismic bounce that could bend girders, while L.O.V.E. (Smile Please) is a good-time anthem that vividly brings the Jamaican sound system tradition to life.

As ever, tonight concludes with Warning – featuring a reappearance from P.O.D.’s Sonny – and the endlessly entertaining spectacle of The Newport Helicopter, as T-shirts are swung over heads. But it’s a moment minutes before that really exemplifies the evening. During Our Religion, a large contingent of fans sit on the floor of the mosh-pit. As Benji, guitarist Mikey Demus, bassist Dan Pugsley and drummer Arya Goggin thunder through the song, a celebration of what it means to be this band, those seated fans begin to row in unison, as if helping to power the ship along. It’s an incredible scene and makes you realise it’s little wonder this enterprise has lasted as long as it has.

The question now is: with a crew like this behind them, just what else are Skindred capable of?

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