SOiL with Puddle of Mudd
Electric Ballroom¸ Camden 14/10/2011

By the time Natalie from Onslaught Radio has finished being lectured on the mechanics of testicle management by Ryan McCombs (current Drowning Pool vocalist and formerly of SOiL (1997-2004)¸ returning for this ‘Scars’ 10th anniversary tour) and has headed downstairs into an absolutely rammed Electric Ballroom¸ the house-lights quickly dim as Kansas City’s Puddle of Mudd [7] take to the stage.

Kicking off with Famous¸ frontman Wes Scantlin seems to be doing the best Layne Staley impression that he can muster¸ donning shades and a jacket whilst facing the audience side-on just as Layne did. The packed house in London tonight initially greets Puddle of Mudd with a reserved reception¸ with many looking somewhat irritated by the fact that Doug Ardito’s bass is unacceptably loud. Launching into Psycho¸ however¸ the crowd seem to have forgiven the sound crew (or at least decided to just live with it) as they sing along with passionate enthusiasm. The start of Away From Me sees Wes unleash an impressive vocal wail¸ and a super-tight bridge in a fantastic rendition of Control means that after an average start¸ PoM seem to have found their stride as the assembled masses sing along¸ wave their hands and pump their fists. The good form continues with Stoned¸ despite fairly average vocals¸ and some questionable drum fills from Shannon Boone¸ before PoM cover AC/DC’s T.N.T. in support of their latest release¸ the covers album Re:(disc)overed. Playing covers in a set at a rock n’ roll gig is always a risky move (unless you’re Metallica or Guns N’ Roses) especially if you play one with a substandard guitar solo as PoM do tonight¸ though on this occasion it goes down well enough as everyone sings along (though you do suspect that this is purely because it’s AC/DC¸ and not because it’s a particularly brilliant cover). The bass levels seem to be remedied by the time we hear Nothing Left To Lose¸ before another number from Re:(disc)overed – this time a rendition of Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones. After these few good-but-not-great numbers and a bit of cringe-worthy typical ‘American rockstar’ stage-banter¸ PoM end on a definite high with a brilliant Blurry¸ made even better by the frankly scary amount of crowd enthusiasm and the fact that the mix now seems to be sorted out and actually pretty good¸ before a tsunami of nostalgia sweeps over the sea of punters for the closer – a massive She Hates Me¸ during which the crowd goes suitably nuts with manic grins plastered all over their faces.

Whilst Puddle of Mudd aren’t actively disliked by anybody¸ it’s also very rare to find somebody who swears by them as the favourite band. It’s also a majority-opinion that they sit comfortably in the “good but not great” category of bands which seems so crowded in today’s scene¸ and their performance tonight reflects this (not least by that fact that after an immense final song¸ Wes makes everyone wince slightly by deeming it a good idea to leave the stage with the words “see you later¸ alligators”). PoM played a good¸ enjoyable set which¸ whilst they probably won’t be raving about it months later¸ gets everyone nicely warmed up and in the mood for the imminent arrival of SOiL [9].

After the two incredible albums Scars and Redefine¸ and more specifically the departure of frontman Ryan McCombs in 2004¸ the quality of SOiL’s recorded output declined somewhat. That’s not to say that replacement A.J. Cavalier was a poor vocalist – far from it – but he lacked that spark which the band needed to make them stand out from the crowd of solid yet unremarkable bands such as Drowning Pool and Dope. All 3 bands consistently pumped out decent releases full of cool rock/metal tunes which were always firm favourites at big metal club nights¸ but were never going to be awarded originality marks or change someone’s life¸ what with enjoyable and fun but uninventive riffs and predictable song structures. SOiL’s compositions are arguably more memorable than those of other similar bands¸ but still pretty standard stuff. It’s clear that what made SOiL a noticeably stronger unit was the combination of these slightly stronger songs and the inclusion of a truly world class vocalist with a powerful and distinctive voice. That vocalist in this case was Ryan McCombs. It is therefore unsurprising then that the anticipation in London tonight is truly palpable and quite overwhelming¸ the reunion of SOiL and McCombs being one for which fans have been waiting for many a year.

After an introduction of moody lighting and quotes from the latest Rambo movie¸ SOiL storm the stage and launch unto a furious Breaking Me Down. The frantic cheering as Ryan takes to the stage with SOiL is quite simply deafening¸ and as the verse kicks in it’s clear that both he and the band have fire in their eyes tonight¸ with McCombs’ vocals being absolutely flawless and monstrous. For this tour¸ the band have recruited ex-Staind drummer Jon Wysocki¸ who holds the whole thing together effortlessly¸ even while dressed in what’s clearly a massive Union Jack flag. With hair and beer flying everywhere in the pit¸ SOiL waste no time in ploughing straight into Need to Feel¸ and for the rest of the night stick mainly to cuts from Scars and Redefine. It seems¸ however¸ that PoM are not the only band to be plagued by less-than-perfect mixes tonight¸ as both bass and guitar during SOiL’s set seem a little quiet (although¸ this could quite easily be due to the fact that McComb’s is simply ON IT tonight¸ storming around the stage like a man possessed¸ taking total command of the audience and belting out some truly brilliant vocals). The sounds problems are added to as Adam Zadel’s guitar signal cuts out momentarily¸ but everyone is just so into it tonight that nobody seems to care. Powering on and wasting no time tonight¸ the band charge straight into a simply stunning rendition of Redefine¸ during which you can’t help but say to yourself: “Yes. Just yes.”

Tonight¸ not only is McCombs literally barking out lines which make the floor shake¸ we’re also treated to some truly glorious clean vocals¸ such as in the chorus of Inside¸ which this evening has absolutely astronomic verses and is terrifyingly tight. The band pauses only briefly tonight¸ with Ryan announcing “what you’re going to see up here tonight is four jackasses having a good time”¸ which is comprehensively proved by the constant colossal smiles on the faces of the entire band throughout the whole night. Tonight is truly a reminder of how good the McCombs-fronted edition of SOiL was and still is¸ with every word being screamed along to by the people who’ve wanted to see him back in the band for years. The songs are huge¸ cool¸ and all about one thing – having a lot of fucking fun. In fact¸ the sight of someone’s prosthetic leg being waved around in the air with enjoyment amongst a sea of pumping fists is a perfect example of the mood in Camden tonight. The band spot this¸ getting the leg on stage only to fill it with Jagermeister and pass it around¸ each member taking a swig out of the leg. As the band tear London a new one with a thundering Unreal¸ the punter behind Onslaught who’s been chanting for Drowning Pool all night is well and truly silenced¸ and visibly left feeling like a fool for his actions. More than once tonight the feeling sweeps over the venue that right now¸ no other band matters¸ and it couldn’t be more obvious that this is where Ryan belongs – onstage with SOiL and dishing out slice after slice of solid¸ kick-ass metal.

As the night draws to a close¸ you really do have to see it to believe how immense Halo is when it’s played live right in front of you by a back-with-a-vengeance SOiL (with Ryan McCombs actually stood right in the middle of the pit getting his-mosh on whilst singing this iconic number). You do get the feeling that you’re witnessing something truly special – an event more than a gig. As the song finishes and the floor is soaked in sweat and alcohol¸ you do seriously have to appreciate the engineering of the venue as it truly is a wonder how it’s still standing. In fact¸ SOiL were so good tonight that 90% of the audience flat out refuse to leave¸ as security and venue staff try in vain to usher them out. The road crew looking completely bewildered¸ and there is many a confused face at the sound desk. Chants of “one more song!” from the audience tonight can probably be heard at the other side of the city¸ and eventually the band return the stage¸ completely unplanned¸ for a phenomenal play-through of Pride. This is the first genuine encore that most of the people here this evening have ever witnessed¸ not the standard ‘walk off stage¸ count to 10¸ then go back on again’ rubbish that we’re used to. This is confirmed by the fact that Halo is visibly the last song on the band’s setlist¸ with Pride nowhere to be seen.

The crowd wanted more¸ and SOiL gave it to them. It’s clear that we’ve witnessed something rather special tonight¸ and as the crowd finally filters out through the tiny exit of the Electric Ballroom tonight¸ Onslaught overhears many a fan summing the whole thing up perfectly.

“Fucking brilliant”.

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