with The Skins
Irving Plaza, New York City 8/30/12
by May Terry
Flashback almost two years ago when a car commercial propelled English band The Heavy into the spotlight with the song "How You Like Me Now," a phrase that became a bold mantra for any display of badassdom and played in multiple commercials, sports events, and even in some political campaign events.
Now, on tour across the U.S. to promote the recent release of their latest album, The Glorious Dead, The Heavy have come back with prevailing force. After seeing their recent concert at Irving Plaza, NYC, yes, there is plenty of reason to still like them now.
Brooklyn-based band The Skins opened the event for The Heavy, and the promoters were spot-on in pairing these two together. The Skins' set amped up the crowd with their high-voltage Afropunk blend of metal, hip-hop, and soul, thanks to their very talented female lead vocalist, Bayli Mckeithan. Her powerful vocal style mimics a female version of Corey Glover in Living Colour's harder songs like "Cult of Personality."
The band is very young, but their heavy rocking rhythm section and sharp guitar solos, held together with such a powerful voice, is brimming with promise. I'll be watching these guys real close as they develop a growing fan base.
The Heavy went on at 9:45 pm with a musical entourage that basically filled the entire stage. The Heavy's core band is the foursome of Kelvin Swaby (lead vocals), Dan Taylor (guitar), Spencer Page (bass), and Chris Ellul (drums). Added for this tour were a keyboardist, three backup horns, and three backup soul singers pulled from the gospel choir that contributed to the band's album during its recording in Columbus, Georgia. This entourage was a necessity for their musical style of R&B and funk with a heavy rock beat that, true to their name, adds quite a bit of weight to their songs. I can think of many bands with varying degrees of this blend today, but The Heavy do stand out on their own with Kelvin Swaby, their overpoweringly engaging and enigmatic lead vocalist.
Kelvin has a very James Brown style of interaction, soliciting high levels of audience participation throughout many of the songs for much of the set. Because he's incredibly charismatic, even the least inclined to be roped into call-and-response songs cannot help but be sucked into the celebratory experience.
While many of the songs were from their breakout album, The House That Dirt Built, about half of the set drew from The Glorious Dead. That's a pretty bold move for a set list since The Heavy already had two previous albums worth of material. The Heavy, however, pulled this off very well, again largely because Kelvin's way of sucking you into the moment. Kelvin's barker-style of interaction in between each song went from anywhere from asking for a simple approval after "Can't Play Dead," to teaching the audience to sing the catchy but simple phrases of unfamiliar songs like "Same Ol'" and "Curse Me Good," all songs from The Glorious Dead. The audience, diverse in both race and age, willingly soaked it all up, not caring whether they looked R&B-awkward in their timing for rhythm or soulful singing. Everyone was shamelessly having a great time.
Moreover, the music from The Glorious Dead is just damn good. "Big Bad Wolf," which was previously on the movie soundtrack to The Losers, made this album. One of most moving songs from the album, "Blood Dirt Love Stop," brought out an emotional intensity not unlike the way the great Motown singer Marvin Gaye did back in the '60s. No wonder this band is going all-out on this tour. They've got a great album to back it up.
After the band finished their 13-song set, the audience's call for an encore was so loud in the room that the ground rumbling from all the feet stomping in the room could have registered a five on the Richter scale. The Heavy returned onstage five minutes later with "Girl," from their first album, Great Vengeance And Furious Fire. The "Girl" riff not only sounded like The Kinks, but overtly led into an improvisation of "All Day and All of the Night" towards the end of the song.
Kelvin then wrapped up the performance by bringing The Skins back on stage to join him for their chart-topper hit, "How You Like Me Now?" which had audience on the ground floor jumping up and down through the chorus in a way that I haven't seen since a House of Pain concert.
While I'm normally not one for attending concerts where band members bait crowds to participate, for this night, I couldn't help myself. And I'm glad I did. So if you're looking a great time filled with unabashedly good music and unfettered singing and dancing, then look no further. By the way, if you do attend and feel the ground shaking, it's not an earthquake -- The Heavy's just about to bring the house down.