After a number of successful years in Nottingham, 2013 marked the addition of a second location for Hit The Deck festival, in Bristol. With a wide variety of bands spanning across four venues (the O2 Academy, Thekla, The Fleece and The Exchange) and costing just £25 for a ticket, I really hope it will be a regular yearly event in Bristol as well from now on!
As there is only one of me, this review will not be an extensive one as it naturally just follows my route of the festival, although I did see as many bands as I possibly could.
My day started at The Fleece, where Idiom (8/10) opened things up very nicely. Showing just how they were the right band to start the day, they actually managed to get a mosh pit going at this early stage of the day courtesy of a particularly enthusiastic group of fans from Weymouth. They had a lot of energy to go around and I was very impressed at guitarist Kris’ fantastic headbanging. They even got some audience participation by getting everyone to shout the words “when everything is said and done” back at them. Throwing a cover of Let Me Love You by Ne-Yo for good measure, they were a wonderfully fun band with an extremely strong set that ended with singer Matt actually climbing up one of the ceiling joists and performing from up there!
Following Idiom was Max Raptor (7/10), who were another fun and entertaining band. Whilst a few of their songs weren’t as good as others, there were a lot of good vibes coming from this band and I just loved how they all looked like they were just having a fantastic time. Frontman Wil was very adept at crowd interaction, even discussing with crowd members about who they were looking forward to seeing. The highlight of their set was the catchy song ‘The King Is Dead’, which a lot of the crowd sang along to.
It was then time for a small trek across town to get to the O2 Academy. Arriving just as Mallory Knox (5/10) started in Academy 1, they came onstage to a lot of cheers from the already massive crowd. Whilst they went down a complete storm with the audience, I couldn’t quite see the appeal with them as they continued through a set of very similar-sounding songs but since they went down so well, I certainly can’t fault them performance-wise, as they played a very engaging set.
I cut the set slightly short in order to head upstairs to see Gnarwolves (6/10), one of my “must-sees” of the day. Unfortunately, the room quickly filled up once Mallory Knox had finished, due to the scheduling of bands in the academy, where there was pretty much non-stop music as when a band finished downstairs, the next one would begin upstairs. As I’m sure that most people would rather see another band during their half-hour wait for the next band if there’s one playing upstairs during that time, it meant that a lot of people would be trying to get into the smaller academy 2 than there should be. Unlike all the other venues, who had security on the doors ensuring that the venues wouldn’t get over capacity, the security at the academy only counted people going in through the front doors before leaving them free to go to whichever room they liked. For the bigger 1600-capacity academy 1 this wasn’t really a problem, but if you think about the fact that the academy 2 has a capacity of only 350, it was bound to get incredibly full incredibly quickly – in my opinion, there should have been security at the entrances for the two rooms, rather than just the entrance to the venue. Whether this was sorted for later bands, I don’t know, as Gnarwolves were the only band I saw in there, but it was definitely not enjoyable to be packed into the room like a sardine.
Sadly, due to no fault of their own, the capacity issues meant I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could, as I was squashed into the room with no real means of getting out until the end (as soon as Mallory Knox finished, it was like the floodgates had opened as people just kept piling inside). Gnarwolves did however put on a lively set, with a lot of the crowd in the middle of the room really getting behind them. Some members of the crowd were even crowdsurfing and stagediving throughout it all. I liked how guitarist Thom just soldiered on with his broken guitar string until he got a new one a few songs later. Overall a great band but I just wish I’d been able to breathe during it all.
It was then time for the mighty Sonic Boom Six (9/10), who came onstage to the very apt intro music for the video game Sonic CD (for those of you who don’t know it, just look it up and you’ll see what I mean)! Having not seen them since 2009, they were one of my highlights of the day. They put on a magnificent show and they made the combination of male and female vocals work very well indeed, with male vocalist Barney Boom switching between doing just vocals and playing bass as well.
Playing their single Virus, I was incredibly amused when their other vocalist Laila K got everyone to hold their fists in the air and wave them side-to-side before launching into a short but sweet cover of Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit to close the song. Bang Bang Bang Bang! was another highlight, which got full participation from the crowd as everyone yelled “bang bang bang bang” back at them. With Laila K commenting on how happy she was to see people smiling and enjoying themselves, it just goes to show how much they really paid attention to the audience and responded well to them. The set ended with their current single Keep On Believing, which even had a mosh pit going by the end of it!
Another thing I’d just like to say was that their sound in the venue was fantastic, probably the best sound I heard throughout the entire day, so kudos to whoever was in charge of their sound.
After a quick stop for some food between venues, I headed over to Thekla in order to catch as much of the Natives (7/10) set as I could. Their music was a nice blend of melodies, sounding very catchy. At the start of one of their songs, vocalist Jim took two photos of the crowd. One of the photos was for them as they took photos of every crowd they played in front of, which I thought was a very nice idea, and the second was for the member of the crowd who did the craziest dancing during their next song. It was a great way to involve the crowd, and it was a lot of fun to spectate from the “top platform” in the room.
It was then time to dash over to the acoustic stage in Thekla in order to see Ellen Cox (9/10). Having read all the coverage of her in Soundscape, I was expecting great things and I am very happy to say she did not disappoint! Her music was nicely simplistic and well-constructed, and I have to admit that it was a nice break from the noisiness of all the other bands! Her crowd interaction was brilliant as she bantered and joked with audience members, and it truly was a pleasure to watch, with my personal favourite being the absolutely beautiful rendition of Little Black Heart.
Great Cynics (7/10) were next on at Thekla. Although their music wasn’t the most original, they played a good set consisting of some great tunes. Singer/guitarist Giles made the typical comment (which never gets old, may I hastily add!) of the fact they were “on a boat”, and maintained a great atmosphere between band and crowd for the set. They even had a trumpeter come and join them onstage for one song!
It was then onwards to The Fleece, which is where I spent the remainder of the festival. Coming onstage just as I arrived was Rolo Tomassi (8/10), who were a very interesting band. Frontwoman Eva had an absolutely brilliant set of pipes on her and was a sweet and humble person, very thankful for the great reception the band got as the set progressed. In fact, the whole band had a fantastic stage presence, with their only weakness being that the clean vocals were not as strong as the harsh ones. As a whole, it was a great performance and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t too familiar with any of their songs as there was a fantastic and welcoming atmosphere throughout.
Feed The Rhino (9/10) were another highlight for me. An incredibly tight band, they had my complete attention from start to finish. They were insane; nice and noisy with a great mosh pit that was actually started by lead singer Lee when he joined the crowd at one point in the set! It was great music that you simply had to bang your head along to. The set ended with Lee climbing up on the bar, where he commanded the whole audience to sit down on the floor, before doing his best Corey Taylor impression by telling us all to “jump to f*ck up”. Absolutely magnificent, and by the time I turned back round to the stage, the drum kit was strewn about everywhere and there was even a bass guitar hanging from the ceiling! Truly a band who put their all into their live performances.
Penultimate band Bleed From Within (8/10) took to the stage with a great amount of confidence. Having seen them at Cardiff a few days prior, I knew what to expect with this performance, but they completely blew that show out of the water. Singer Scott was a charismatic frontman, frequently engaging in playful banter with the crowd – at one point even commanding the crowd to stop “standing still like they’re at a wedding because they’re supposed to be at a gig” and to start moshing properly, and even commented on the fact it had been their first time in Bristol where everyone had understood what they were saying, due to their somewhat thick Scottish accents. Ultimately, it was a highly entertaining set coupled with some brilliant music. Definitely a band to check out if you get the chance.
Admittedly, Bleeding Through (10/10) were always going to be my band of the night. Since Hit The Deck was part of a small handful European dates for their last ever tour over here as they will be splitting up soon, I instantly snapped up a ticket for the festival just to see them. Speaking to numerous people at the front of the show whilst waiting for them to come on, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one who had done this and the general consensus seemed to be that many members of the audience had only booked a ticket in order to see Bleeding Through, too. It just goes to show what the pull of a good band to a festival can be!
Although their introduction was a little lacklustre, with members just milling about onstage as their introduction of Finnis Fatalis Spei filled the venue, things quickly got exciting as it sped up and the full show got underway with frontman Brandan walking about the stage like he owned it – although being honest, he truly did! However, after a truly gripping performance of Sister Charlatan, guitarist Dave’s amp chose that unfortunate moment to blow up. So whilst he went to try and get a replacement for it, Brandan spoke with the crowd about how thankful they all were for everyone coming down to see their last UK shows.
The place came alive for Love Lost In A Hail Of Gunfire, with the whole crowd shouting along with the spoken introduction. They then continued to storm through a strong set, featuring songs such as Anti-Hero, Faith In Fire and even older song Rise from their Portrait Of The Goddess album!
Of course, the most popular songs of the night came from their 2006 release, The Truth. For Love And Failing featured the whole crowd screaming every word back at them and they then launched into an absolutely perfect rendition of Tragedy Of Empty Streets. After this song, one of the audience members shouted up at the band, asking where the pit was, and keyboardist Marta (who’d been joking with the audience and band members alike throughout the whole set – she has a fantastic sense of humour!) swiftly retorted with “right here, I have two” and motioned to her armpits, which got a laugh from those who noticed.
Following this, the band played Love In Slow Motion. Owing to the fact it is one of my all-time favourite songs (and by this, I am not referring to just tracks by Bleeding Through), I was over the moon to be able to hear it one last time and nothing will beat the feeling of standing there and screaming every note back at the band. There was a lot of emotion for me during that track and it only got more intense as the song finished and Brandan announced that the next song was going to be their last.
He then gave a heartfelt speech about how the band always loved playing the UK as they were always so well-received and had a great amount of support over here. He then continued by saying that in their home country of America, it’s never been quite as good as it is in the UK, since back over there they seem to like bands for a couple of months before moving onto the next one. Telling the room that he loved our country’s sheer commitment to them, they then launched into their final song of the night, Kill To Believe.
With everyone knowing it was their last ever chance to get involved, the room went crazy and the set ended with a stage invasion, Brandan even being lifted up onto one audience member’s shoulders for the last 30 seconds or so of the song. It was the perfect way to end it all and afterwards, some of the members took a lot of time to go and shake the hands of as many people as they could reach, which I thought was a nice touch.
It was the best I’ve ever seen them play, which resulted in it being somewhat bittersweet as it was a farewell show but it was great that they went out on such a high. I just wish they’d been given a longer set allocation than a mere hour, as they had so much more to give.
Bleeding Through, you will be missed.