Like an outsider coming up on the rails, Enter Shikari are rapidly propelling themselves into the running as one of the biggest bands in the country – and if they provide many more nights like this one, that will surely become a foregone conclusion. On an evening of high theatricality and top performances, the party was started by Astroid Boys before Lower Than Atlantis raised the temperature to boiling point with an explosive set. When a huge circle pit was created partway through, following a request from feisty frontman Mike Duce, it was obvious that the crowd were more than up for something special. Lower Than Atlantis proved to be the perfect entry point for the theatrics and excitement to follow, their sound much beefier live than on record.
Tonight was the first taste for many of Enter Shikari’s use of a quadrophonic sound system, and necks craned around as the sound of airplanes crossed the venue before the band’s arrival on stage to what they have described as ‘The Spark’s “palate-cleanser”. The stage design was spectacular, with a huge radar screen hanging over the band – but there was little time to admire it as they burst ferociously straight into ‘The Sights’. Frontman Rou Reynolds, hair reaching Everest-levels of height was, of course, impossible to take your eyes off. One of the great rock frontmen of this and any other era, he danced, span and contorted around the stage. Though his voice has lately taken on a whole new style and confidence, he showed that he had lost none of the visceral growl that was integral to their early days – ‘Solidarity’ carried an angry edge that prompted a huge response from an audience who were lapping up every moment.
Introducing “phase two” of the evening, ‘The Last Garrison’ and ‘Undercover Agents’ were stunning – the latter in particular offering a tantalising glimpse of where Shikari may head if they choose to continue down a mainstream route, whilst losing none of their power and authenticity. As the night continued with gonzo versions of ‘Arguing With Thermometers’ and ‘Rabble Rouser’, it was clear why the band have been nominated for (and won) so many Best Live Band awards over the years. Their chameleonic ability to shapeshift between multiple genres within the same track is transferred effortlessly onto stage, with guitarist Rory Clewlow and bassist Chris Batten providing the anchor to Reynolds’ more extroverted nature. All the while, the quadrophonic sound system added a heightened and fully immersive feel to an already impressive sound.
There were softer moments too. Dedicating ‘Airfield’ to, “Anyone who is having the worst year of their lives”, Reynolds popped up on a piano at the back of the venue. Playing it in this style is a challenge with a rowdy crowd, who took a while to eventually quieten down enough to take in the fragility of the track. A heartfelt plea that: “Through adversity, hope must not become the casualty” is a much needed sentiment these days and it became one of the high points of the entire set. As it lifted and soared into its magnificent crescendo, the sound emanating from both stages meeting and merging in the centre of the venue with Clewlow, Batten and drummer Rob Rolfe rocking out as Reynolds emotionally hammered the keys.
As the show drew to an end with a simply stunning “quickfire round”, (four songs in an eight minute medley), it was apparent that there are no limits to what Enter Shikari can do or where they can go. They show an innate curiosity about sound and spectacle, constantly pushing at the boundaries of what a live show can do and how it can be presented. There was a sensation that every night on the tour would contain something unique, that it would contain some small wrinkle that would take the entire show down a different road. There are very few bands that possess the quality to make an arena show feel like that, and even fewer that are still growing and developing their sound as they do. As the venues get bigger and bigger, it will be fascinating to watch the next stages in their evolution.