This was our first time attending Slam Dunk since it moved from Wolverhampton to Birmingham’s NEC. On the way in, logistically, it was striking how much added security was around in the wake of the Manchester attack. Understandable, but some things like a separate queue for those who already had their wristbands would have been much appreciated, rather than having to queue twice at the very start of the day.
Anyway, onto the bands. Up first was Andrew McMahon on the main stage in the gigantic Genting Arena. Andrew drew a decent crowd early on and played a mixture of songs from all of his projects, with “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin and “I Woke Up in a Car” by Something Corporate being particular highlights, although songs like “Cecelia and the Satellite” also received warm receptions in the huge room. Andrew’s set was also complemented by the addition of a second keyboardist who was able to modulate guitar riffs. Nice emotional start to the day.
Sorority Noise were one of our most anticipated bands of the day following the release of their stellar You’re Not as _____ As You Think. They definitely didn’t disappoint, managing to cram about 10 songs into their 30 minute set, playing one after another with no gaps. Their stage presence is certainly unique, as their guitarist almost looks like he’s turned up to play for a much happier bands, jumping around the stage, but it adds a nice contrast to their dark lyrics. Seeing this much energy at about 2pm is something that not all bands can pull off, but Sorority Noise can.
Crime in Stereo were a rare treat, playing on the Signature Brew stage early on. Their melodic hardcore was a welcome surprise, since they don’t play too regularly following their reunion a few years back. Starting off with “XXXX (The First Thousand Years of Solitude)” and a The Troubled Stateside-heavy set was incredible to witness as they jumped around the stage, and were incredibly musically tight. Songs like “Gravity/Grace” and “Bicycles for Afghanistan” were just made for singalongs.
Over on the acoustic stage Vinnie Caruana was playing a set of I Am the Avalanche songs to precede the Movielife’s set later that evening. His classic sense of dry humour and Avalanche songs like “Brooklyn Dodgers” and “Green Eyes” provided a nice nostalgic singalong early on.
Turnover’s widely popular Peripheral Vision was showcased, almost in full, making up 90% of their set. The songs from that record are well-crafted and show off the band’s knack for writing riffs and choruses. Although, live, it was much of a muchness. All band members seemed to stand perfectly in one spot throughout the set, bringing little to no stage presence at all. A good set, but could be infinitely more interesting.
Citizen on the Signature Brew stage managed to draw probably the biggest outdoor crowd we’d seen so far. Starting off with “The Summer” and “Sleep”, these two tracks from their hugely popular record Youth immediately got them off to a great start, with the majority of the crowd shouting the words back to them. Their brand of grunge-y pop-punk was certainly popular, and while a couple of songs from Everybody is Going To Heaven were played, it was surprising that they focused on older material. They have a talent for commanding a stage and crowd, though.
Speaking of stage presence, over on the pop-punk stage, early 2000s heroes The Movielife provided one of the funnest sets of the day – although it was a great shame that they clashed with The Bronx. It was striking just how many hits they have, songs like “Walking on Glass”, “Hand Grenade” and just about anything from Forty Hour Train Back to Penn had the entire crowd shouting the lyrics back to them. However, it was interesting that the crowd seemed to thin out loads during the band’s set. Everyone else’s loss, though, as they were on top form. Vinnie Caruana seemed to be having a great time too, stopping only to make a few jokes between songs. Closing with “Ship to Shore” and “Jamestown” was a perfect end to a great, nostalgic set.
Our headliners for the day were obviously Against Me! who closed the stellar Signature Brew stage. The combination of “True Trans Soul Rebel”, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”, “Walking is Still Honest” and “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” to start their set was absolutely perfect, showing off their biggest singalongs from across their catalogue. They never let up once during their set, playing song after song. They are also incredibly tight at the moment, backed by their new rhythm section, they seem completely reenergised.
Although, a couple of rare songs from New Wave and a heavy dosage of tracks from their latest record Shape Shift With Me seemed like weird choices for a festival, leading to a little bit of a lull during the middle of their hour-long set. This was picked back up with “Miami” and recently-rare treat “Reinventing All Rose”. Not to complain too much though. Closing off with “Black Me Out”, they band certainly played the best set of the day, showcasing their live command and their catalogue of great songs. But, a more cohesive set would have probably gone over even better.
All in all, this year’s Slam Dunk felt like a success, with great sets by the majority of bands we saw. The NEC complex for the festival feels like a good fit, if getting in and out could be easier in future years, and just generally more room to walk was available. Surprisingly, too, the sound on the outside stages seemed to be good all day, even when faced with wind or rain which was nice. We’ll be there next year if the lineup comes near to this year.