It's just over a year since last time the Italian goth-metallers pitched up in our fair city, and now they're back again - this time at the o2 Academy across town. Last year was a very low-key date; they brought no real stage show for their gig at the Masque (or Barfly as it was still known then), just themselves and their gear. This time they did bring a stage set and a few of those fancy LED strip lights often used by bands in arenas nowadays. However the downstairs part of the o2 Academy is not an arena, just a small venue and the place was absolutely packed as I got in, moments before the headliners hit the stage. The floor was completely full and there were people straining to see through the gaps in the wall near the bar, and on the steps. The turnout was probably sufficient to justify putting them on the larger upstairs floor; I've seen a few bands play that floor with less people present than the attendance this night so I do wonder why they had to play the lower floor. However in future, I'll get there sooner (!)
(In my defence, sometimes they tend to put the bands on late at the o2)
Although I strained to see and was often making use of the handy TV monitors that were showing the onstage action, the band gave a fine performance, crammed as they were on the tiny stage. Once again it was lead vocalist Cristina Scabbia who was the centre of attention, as she appeared on stage about a hundred digital cameras immediately trained on her. (Not guilty this time, Cristina - too far back!) It seemed to me that co-vocalist Andrea Ferro was more involved this time; he seemed a more peripheral figure last year but here he was right up alongside the Goth Goddess and it definitely came over more like a vocal team rather than him backing her up. Unlike most bands of this type, where the male vocal is mainly a 'death grunt', Ferro's cleaner style sat better with me. The crowd were definitely up for this show, Scabbia had no problems getting hands raised and clapping, and singing along, particularly when they played their cover of Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy The Silence'.
The band's style of alternative Metal is rather groove-orientated, built on the drumbeats of 'Criz' Mozzati and there are only limited use of guitar solos in the material, personally I like a good air guitar solo but shredding isn't really what Cristiano Migliore and Marco Biazzi are about. The emphasis is very much on those heavy, rhythmical guitar riffs laying down the foundation for the two vocalists. As a result, it sometimes felt a bit one-dimensional to me however well they played; the only real change in tempo came when Scabbia sang the slower 'Wide Awake' mid-set. The set did feature songs old and new; as well as tracks from current album 'Shallow Life' they did earlier songs like 'Honeymoon Suite' (presumably nothing to do with the 80s AOR band!) and 'Half-life', which went down well with the faithful.
After just over an hour they ended their main set abruptly, so much so the crowd were a bit caught off-guard and didn't know whether or not to cheer for more for a few moments. They did reappear for two more songs, playing the catchy 'Spellbound' and 'Our Truth'. The latter was dedicated by Scabbia to the late Sophie Lawrence, while Ferro also dedicated it to the memory of former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, pointing out it was 24 years to the day since the bus crash that killed him.
Once again then, a good gig from a band who you might expect to see in larger venues than this; their style is not completely to my taste but what they do, they do well, and in Cristina Scabbia they have a singer who can cross over to more traditional rock fans. Hopefully next time, if they do come here again, it is in the larger venue where they can be seen properly by everyone who shows up!