Review: Skunk Anansie – Great Hall, Cardiff

Some bands seem to crop up on your radar with pleasing regularity. Tours and festival appearances meaning it feels just weeks since you saw them last. Others, somehow seem to evade you for years, or in this case decades, since, despite being a band whose music I love, I had yet to experience Skunk Anansie live. That seemed destined to continue with the delay of the 25th-anniversary tour thanks to the pandemic (maybe they should have invited Boris along and we could have all pleaded innocence) but finally, a trip up the M5 and a chance to witness a bucket list band.

A few weeks earlier we had visited the same venue for Halestorm and the queue had formed six hours before doors opened, so, when we walked up the road towards the venue and saw literally no queue just 30 minutes beforehand I got a sinking feeling that something was wrong. First thing, have we travelled all the way up on the right date? Yep! Are we at the right venue (several in the university complex)? Yep! Ask security then “Yeah mate, all good”. Surely the crowd won’t be THIS small? We needn’t have panicked. Within minutes the queue was snaking around the block and once in, the venue quickly filled by the time the first act, Holocene took to the stage.

Helocene, Skunk AnansieWithout doubt, a unique opening act, Holocene is basically Sian Kelly, aided and abetted by Matt Williams on drums and a reel-to-reel tape deck. Playing in very subdued lighting the set was a showcase for a fascinating sound that fused grunge guitar and jazz vocals with delicious effect. Not one to photograph, but one to savour and enjoy without a lens in the way. ‘Kiss Me In The Dark’ stood out as a highlight and got the biggest crowd reaction.

Gen & The Degenerates, Skunk AnansieWhere Holocene were dark and brooding, Gen and the Degenerates were a blur of fun and energy. Gen herself, a delightfully confident and extrovert front person spent as much of the set on her back or sat on the extended stage riser as she did cavorting around the stage. A speech about writing to your MP regarding the omission of trans conversion therapy from the bill, a broken shoe resulting in “fuck it” and the rest of the performance barefoot, songs as good as ‘Girl. God. Gun’ and an audience who loved every manic second showed why they are the subject of a LOT of interest right now. 

Let’s be honest though, that wasn’t what we were all there for.

A short break and Ace, Cass, Mark, and Erika strolled on stage and took their positions before all hell broke loose as the demonic, behorned, and orange suited Skin, larger than life and twice as energetic, ripped into ‘Yes, It’s Fucking Political’. I have shot a lot of shows the last few months but I have missed a pit full of photographers looking at each other and mouthing “fucking hell!” at the sheer spectacle and musicianship bleeding from a stage like this.

Skunk AnansieSkin’s voice was everything I had imagined it would be live. Switching from soft, tuneful, almost soulful notes to screamed power and range. In terms of visuals, a towering, Malificent-like Amazon, swinging a theremin around like a mace before lasciviously licking the antennae with an evil grin takes a LOT of beating. By the time we have experienced ‘And Here I Stand’ and ‘I Can Dream’ I am dripping sweat and dancing like a loon – and I am still in the photo pit!

The setlist doesn’t let up for a second and when a band can throw something as popular and simply brilliant as ‘Weak’ (Skin now with an acoustic guitar) so early in a set you know what is coming is going to be special. Skin’s communion with the crowd adds to many of the songs. Introducing new song ‘Can’t Take You Anywhere’ by first telling the Welsh crowd how much better they are doing than England, and then telling the story of the song as being about how recent events have polarised views and beliefs of family and friends. Amongst the classics it screams out how good the new music is and how relevant Skunk Anansie still are today. ‘Love Someone Else’ sees Erika front and centre as the two batter vocals back and forth combined with some superb dance moves and the crowd doesn’t stop moving the whole song. ‘God Loves Only You’ gets another extended intro from Skin, ‘Hedonism’ sees a Welsh choir accompaniment and is followed by ‘Without You’ where Skin compliments the crowd on being the best of the tour to a massive cheer and yet more chaos in the crowd.

Skunk AnansieI found ‘100 Ways’ ridiculously emotional as Skin talked about how it was about abusive parents beating children. It is a song I love but hearing it in context it was even more powerful and affecting. ‘This Means War’ brought forth an extended sermon from a visibly angry Skin as she talked about the imbalance between the “right” refugees being offered homes in the UK in exchange for £350 yet others being deported. The song is dedicated to “Those running from tyranny wherever they are from”. ‘Intellectualise My Blackness’ was every bit as superb live as it is every time I have ever played it, and then the piggies bought forward the huge drum for ‘Tear The Place Up’. The set itself was bought to an end by ‘Charlie Big Potatoes’ during which Skin held a high note for a lung-busting duration. Fears of previous health issues well and truly exorcised.

No way was that going to be all. Clapping, cheering, stamping, and chanting bought the band back for another new song ‘Piggy’ with Erika again joining Skin at the front. I loved their interplay whenever this happened and the layered vocals really added depth. ‘Brazen (Weep)’, played for the first time ever in Wales, with a re-mastered string background because, as Skin succinctly put it, “Who Gives a Fuck?” before ‘Highway to Hell’ and an intro to the band members. The night ended on the setlist with ‘Little Baby Swastika’ and a series of Skin organised mosh pits which bought bigger and bigger smiles to her face. It was hard to say who had the most energy as she looked like she could go on all night! That should have been it, but, as Foo Fighters ‘Best of You’ played out as a tribute, the band appeared reluctant to leave, staying on stage with the lights up, clapping and dancing along with a crowd that just didn’t move. A genuinely emotional and heartfelt way of ending a superb evening and one that will remain with me for a VERY long time.

Review and Photos – Rob Wilkins

All current Skunk Anansie live dates can be found here.

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