Avatar + The Mahones + Dylan Walshe
@ The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
20th January 2019
Review By Courtney Solloway
Photography By: Inty Malcolm
Dylan Walshe is an act I did not expect to see supporting a band like Avatar. I’m not by any means upset by the choice of opening act but I must admit it took me a couple of songs to warm up to it.
Walshe opens his set with just his acoustic guitar but quickly dismisses it by going into a’capella for half of the song. It’s always extremely brave to do any a’capella as a performer, as even the best have their rough days, but Walshe’s raspy yet soft vocals carry themselves well enough that it didn’t have me worried. The soft echoing of the vocals trail out before Walshe introduces himself properly and makes a quick speech about how he used to live in London. From what I understand he was trying to make the audience feel a little more relatable to him as he was talking so quickly it almost came across as nervous.
Dylan Walshe’s style is very much Irish Folk, and even running with the themes of typical folk music his song Trickle Down is a political track based on Trump’s rise to presidency. Unfortunately for him, he moved to Nashville just before he became President so he wrote this song about all of the things he witnessed around him.
Throughout the set, we’re presented with some acoustic guitar, harmonica, kick drum and tambourine, all of which Walshe plays himself.
The drum and tambourine under one foot each and the harmonica strapped over his shoulders, he’s very much a one-man band and it reminds me of artists like Newton Faulkner – although Walshe emphasizes more the folk side of music. We were even surprised with a cover of Straight to Hell by The Clash later in his set. Overall, this wasn’t bad by any means and I quite enjoyed it, but I don’t think the people around me enjoyed it as much. The person sat next to me said: “We’re here for a metal show, I don’t get this and I don’t really like it”. Avatar fans are diverse but I think for some audience members this may have been a little out of their ballpark.
There’s dramatic music between bands and then suddenly upbeat and silly borderline circus or 50’s theatre adverts “for one night and one night only” kind of vibes. It’s incredibly strange but it’s quite entertaining. Mr Bungle – Squeeze Me Macaroni is the only song that plays that I recognise and it’s pretty much a testimony to how insane this night begins to be. This particular break took a while though and the crowd were beginning to get quite restless, but from what I can tell it was due to sound problems.
The Mahones explode onto the stage with ferocious energy and jump straight into the first track. Just like you would imagine from an Irish punk band, The Mahones have some hard riffs and enough stage presence to fill the entire room.
The Mahones definitely resembles one of the greatest Irish punk bands, The Dropkick Murphys – who aren’t actually Irish, which is the same as The Mahones. The Mahones are actually from Kingston, Canada and The Dropkick Murphys are from Massachusetts in the US.
This band were an excellent show, the singer/guitarist is full of energy and quite clearly loves to show off his skills as he poses right in front of the photographers for their shots.
The drummer is filled with just as much energy, from banging the drums completely in time to also showing off by spinning his drumsticks and throwing them into the air, there’s no shortage of entertaining things to watch.
I figured that if there was more space on the stage, the guitarist, bassist and accordionist would have run around the stage more than they were.
They had such excellent stage presence and were consistently asking who was excited for Avatar and how they were one of the best bands they had seen live. It’s a shame that during some of the heavier punk songs the crowd didn’t join in more by dancing or moshing along.
Towards the end of the set, they play a very punk rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes. At this point, I was slightly lost as the distortion on the guitar was quite high. I couldn’t hear the vocals or accordion clearly and between songs earlier the guitarist had to take a second to sort something on his amp; I’m left to wonder if it had something to do with that.
The break between The Mahones and Avatar is one of the weirdest breaks I’ve ever sat through in my entire life. Most of it sounded like it was advertisements for “Avatar country”. Fitting and it made me laugh, but was definitely strange. Unfortunately though, it looked like there was a technical difficulty with Avatar’s banner. They released it but it was still rolled up, and when they tried to pull on it to unhook it it went terribly wrong and unhooked at the top, which led to the whole thing coming down, meaning we didn’t get a reveal of the band. However, it made for good entertainment whilst we waited as the crowd ooh’d and aah’d and chanted, waiting for it to fall.
With an announcement asking for a minute’s silence for our king of Avatar Country most of the crowd goes silent, but of course, there’s always the select few who are far too excited to stay silent only to be shh’d by other members of the crowd. As Glory To Our King begins to play our king and guitarist Jonas Jarlsby rises from under a platform on a throne with the crown on his head and guitar in hand.
One by one the rest of the Swedish band make their way onto the stage, with singer Johannes Eckerström the last to arrive. As Johannes stands at his podium, A Statue Of The King begins to chime in whilst comically our king sits on his throne playing.
During the break in the song, Johannes asks if we are with them before encouraging the crowd to join in with some chanting. In the first performance of the night, Avatar proves that they are born performers and this would be a night to remember.
The throne ends up at the forefront of the stage as Jonas takes his seat leading us into the next song with the beautiful intro that is Legend Of The King. Then, as the throne is whisked away the lights go red and we crash into Paint Me Red.
At this moment in time, the crowd has begun to go absolutely berserk at what seems to be one of the favourites throughout the room. Bloody Angel has one of the heaviest pits of that night during its riffs and chorus and Johannes really begins to amp up the crowd interaction. More noticeably, drummer John Alfredsson is getting very fancy with his drumming and conducting the crowd in the moments he is playing.
A few songs pass and the crowd below me are moshing harder than I’ve seen most crowds ever mosh before, and suddenly The Eagle Has Landed begins to play. The room erupts into cheers and now everyone in the crowd is completely losing it, singing along, waving the hands in the air and half the crowd are completely moshing between breaks of the song.
This was particularly a highlight for me as it is one of my favourite songs, but it was then followed by my all-time favourite Avatar song, Let It Burn. I couldn’t have asked for a better track to follow. But first Johannes does what every good frontman does and entertains the crowd with jokes about what they had done in the past.
Sleeping in piss in London because the 7th opening act didn’t a dressing room, eating chips with vinegar (he doesn’t mind it in case you’re wondering), but then in that psychopathic act of his he tells the crowd that we have to do what the voices in his head are telling him to do…Let It Burn.
His act of crazy ringleader has always translated well to the crowd and it often comes across as creepy and taunting, but if you know anything about Avatar a lot of their act is the theatrics Johannes puts into it. The music is damn entertaining but the experience takes it a few extra hundred miles to make the show stand out as unique. That’s why Avatar fans love it.
There’s a break where Johannes talks about us being outcasts and how we’re all freaks, at which point most of the crowd has guessed what song we’ll be hearing next. But something interrupts the speech. Suddenly I can hear: “ROW, ROW, ROW, ROW!” Of course, I’ve seen this at festivals in large scales. There’s a group of people sat on the floor acting like they’re rowing boats.
This is a larger scale than I thought could fit in the room and I couldn’t even see all of it as I didn’t want to lean too far over the balcony, but it’s so hilarious in fact that Johannes breaks character by laughing at this group of people. No doubt that this is probably one of the best and weirdest moments of the tour. Well done London, you never cease to amaze, even me who’s constantly around you all. A moment was all it took to recollect himself and we were thrown into Smells Like A Freakshow.
A costume change later, The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country and with a crap tonne of bubbles we’re back with Johannes. “We among the cockroaches will be the last to survive on this planet because we metalheads are built to last” – a crowd-pleaser if ever a saw one. In fact like Smells Like A Freakshow the crowd knows where this is going and start screaming “HAIL” at the stage. The guy sat behind me damn near burst my eardrum himself with no help necessary.
Just when I think the crowd has died down, tired themselves out and can’t take anymore, the room becomes pure, unsaturated chaos during Hail The Apocalypse and the bit opens up for a wall of death. I’d be surprised if no one got hurt during this song.
Unfortunately though, it is the last song of the evening and the night has concluded. As I make my way out of the building everyone is shouting at each other, unable to hear the person standing right next to them. It’s definitely the sign of a good night out.
I was sad to be leaving. Avatar put on a completely excellent show and I didn’t want it to end. I’m excited for the next time they come back to London, or hopefully a festival. I’ll definitely be there. Perhaps not in the pits though, that definitely looked a hell of a lot more brutal than some of the heaviest bands I’ve been to see.
I think it was up there with the brutal Slipknot pit at Wembley in 2015.