Sum 41

support Zebrahead
author AP date 03/02/20 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Has it really been ten years since Sum 41 last visited Denmark? That is no doubt the question on many a person’s mind as they glance around the sold out venue and come to the realisation that the heroes of their high school years have well and truly grown up — and so have they. I am one of those people, wondering why almost everyone at Amager Bio tonight looks… well, not old per se, but certainly not like their spiky-haired, acne-ridden former selves who thought American Pie was the best thing ever and that only the coolest bands had numbers in their names. Actually, I am surprised Sum 41 have managed to sell out this venue after the debacle of their last concert here in 2010, but I guess a decade is long enough for people to forgive the band their trespasses and give them a well-deserved second chance to prove that although they’re pushing 40, they can still pull off those house party hits like it’s nobody’s business. Let us find out, shall we…

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen


Zebrahead

Sum 41 (or any other band for that matter) could not have asked for a better opening act than Zebrahead. Not only is the Orange County, CA-based outfit quite eclectic as far as their music goes, they also specialise in galvanising audiences with their festive personalities and tongue-in-cheek attitude. As is their custom, three of their stagehands — all dressed in alien onesies — double as instigators performing crucial roles such as tending the band’s own bar on stage and executing stunts such as stage diving onto a watermelon-shaped floaty and being on the receiving end of abuse by the two frontmen, vocalist Ali Tabatabaee and guitarist Matty Lewis, in between the songs. I guess one has to be predisposed to Zebrahead’s raw brand of humour in order to really ‘get’ what the band is all about, and as such, if you came here expecting your intellect to be massaged, you would have been in for a rude awakening. Mind you, Zebrahead have actually written, and continue to write some decent pop-punk and rap-rock tunes such as the opening track “All My Friends Are Nobodies” (off 2019’s “Brain Invaders”) and the older “Rescue Me” (taken from 2003’s rather excellent “MFZB”), as testified by the loud sing-alongs and subsequent cheers aroused by both of these songs. It is catchy stuff, and it has to be said that the five musicians manage to pack a lot of variety into the nine songs presented, including the darker and more technical “Save Your Breath” (from 2015’s “Walk the Plank”), which reminds me of a fusion of Pennywise and Propagandhi, and the circle-pit inducing “Anthem”, which delivers some summery vibes to this cold and dark February evening in best Four Year Strong fashion.

Despite spending an inordinate amount of time on cracking jokes and setting up various crowd interactions such as a wall of death in the bridge of the aforementioned “Rescue Me” and the somewhat trite ”sit down - jump the f**k up!” manoeuvre during “Save Your Breath”, the band succeeds in hitting seven of their twelve studio albums. But while crowd control is one of the essentials of a good Zebrahead concert, it is nonetheless frustrating that, given the limited set length available to them, the group does not fill more of it with actual songs and thus opts to forego many a fan favourite like “Hello Tomorrow”, “Hell Yeah!” and “Playmate of the Year”. Don’t get me wrong — this is a highly entertaining warm-up show, and Sum 41 should be glad that the Californians have worked the crowd into such elation. But as someone with a bit of an affinity for especially the early ‘00s era of Zebrahead’s repertoire, I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by their efforts tonight.

6


Sum 41

A decade ago at this same venue, Sum 41 laid waste to the idea of reliving my teenage years with a disastrous concert for which the band decided to focus on pointless banter and hackneyed crowd control nonsense instead of playing their music. It was the first and only show to date that drove me to throw a beer at a band — so needless to say, the Canadian pop-punk and alternative metal fusionists have a lot to make up for in my book tonight. But as the baroque intro music segues into a piano melody and the five musicians emerge from backstage with their arms raised in triumph, I get an entirely different feeling about what’s to come. Said piano melody is of course part of “Turning Away”, the opening track from the Ajax-born outfit’s latest album, 2019’s “Order in Decline”, and while that record was something of a disappointment to say the least, the loud and heavy, yet well-balanced sound mix renders it an entirely different beast here in the live setting, its steady build-up laying the first brick to a strong opening segment that sends the crowd into a frenzy. In quick succession, we are treated to a litany of dark and potent fan favourites including the classics “Hell Song” and “Over My Head (Better Off Dead)” off 2002’s seminal “Does This Look Infected?” album. There is some respite provided by the chirpier “Motivation” (taken from 2001’s “All Killer, No Filler”), but the quintet’s intentions have been made clear: this is going to be hard-hitting and serious, and not an American Pie-style frat party.

To be fair: Sum 41’s opting to embrace their love of heavier music could have gone either way, but judging by the sea of fists in the air, and the amount of people involved in a moshpit operating at a higher intensity than at most metal concerts, the majority of the attendees here are well and truly on board with the band’s agenda. The musicians, too, are in high spirits, making ample use of the plethora of fixtures on stage for jumps and getting right in our faces with gritted teeth — and lo and behold: frontman Deryck Whibley spends very little time addressing his fans, let alone soliciting for specific types of responses from them. As a result, he and his cohort are able to cram a staggering 25 songs into the set, which in turn translates to a little bit of everything. Unfortunately for us, a little bit of everything includes songs best left untouched, such as “War” (a prosaic ballad taken from 2016’s “13 Voices”) with its cringeworthy lyricism. Still, ignoring the odd misstep, the band’s grip on their audience is undeniable; the floor is quaking from the weight of a thousand people jumping up and down during “Walking Disaster” (one of the better cuts off the band’s 2007 outing “Underclass Hero”), and when things are taken down a notch for the melancholy “With Me” from that same album, a sea of lighters and cellphone flashes illuminate the room beautifully as the same people join in to sing this sweet and melancholy ballad.

I have to be blunt though, and say that just because the music draws an energetic reaction from the audience, it is not necessarily a reflection of how good the material being aired is. There is a reason why Sum 41’s fame has waned since their heyday, and excepting the thrill-ride that is my personal highlight, “No Reason” off 2004’s “Chuck”, this segment around the halfway mark is a pretty good example of that. Whibley and lead guitarist Dave Baksh can rock and skewer as many giant balloons flying around the room during the titular “Underclass Hero” as they want, but it does not change the fact that the most euphoric responses are reserved for the band’s most infectious classics, “Fat Lip”, “Still Waiting” and — eventually in the first encore — “In Too Deep”. Clearly, it is these songs people came here to see, and although there is of course a new album to promote, it would have served Sum 41 better to maybe skip the completely redundant punk cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and to deliver “Handle This” in its original format instead of whipping out those acoustic guitars. It is not a completely exhilarating performance then, but at the very least it makes up for the insult of their last appearance in Denmark, and I would be lying if I said the teenager in me was not having a blast for vast swathes of this set anyway.

8

Setlist:

  • 01. Turning Away
  • 02. The Hell Song
  • 03. Motivation
  • 04. 88
  • 05. Over My Head (Better Off Dead)
  • 06. We’re All to Blame
  • 07. War
  • 08. Out for Blood
  • 09. A Death in the Family
  • 10. Walking Disaster
  • 11. With Me
  • 12. No Reason
  • 13. Fake My Own Death
  • 14. 45 (A Matter of Time)
  • 15. Screaming Bloody Murder
  • 16. Underclass Hero
  • 17. Pieces
  • 18. The People Vs…
  • 19. Fat Lip
  • 20. Still Waiting

— Encore I —

  • 21. We Will Rock You (Queen cover)
  • 22. In Too Deep
  • 23. Never There

— Encore II —

  • 24. Handle This

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