SKUNK ANANSIE is one of those bands that you just know is going to deliver live. There’s no doubt in my mind that what we’re about to witness will be mind-blowing – a complete demolition of this humbled Manchester venue. Even security is beaming from ear to ear, spouting personal memories of Skin and her crew, eyes gleaming in anticipation.
Surprisingly, the show is not sold out, but the venue is loaded with die-hard SA fans, and the atmosphere is electric. If these fans could watch this band smash the same stage every day for a week, they would be absolutely fine with that. We’re talking loyalty on a major scale – and, given the demographic of the audience on first sight, the Skunk Anansie cult has clearly spread across the generations quite nicely. Crowd-surfing, ahoy, methinks.
We expect nothing less than an explosive entrance by Skin – and we are not let down. Lights dim as whistles and screams fill the air. Bass player Cass, lead guitarist Ace and drummer Mark Richardson open the set with “Skank Heads.” Intro in progress, we’re all waiting for Skin. Seemingly out of nowhere, the iconic lead singer leaps into the middle of the stage, a whirlwind of energy, hair immaculate, that familiar steely stare which has been photographed countless times and the coy smile too endearing to be true, as she spins in her spectacular black streaming top and stomps her silver studded boots to the beats, firmly planting her ownership onto the stage. This is not high energy – this is devastation.
Photographers scramble over each other in the pit, tracking the moving target that is Skin, while the crowd roars as she runs from one end of the stage to the other, demonstrating some nifty footwork more commonly associated with boxers. Stopping for a few seconds, she wields her mic stand aloft in one hand like a trophy, as she screams “Get off! Get off me!” Toying with the photographers cowering below, she leaps onto another monitor shouting “Come on!” Tonight, she’s taking no prisoners, make no mistake. Onto the next track, as she threatens, “I will break you with my fire / I’ll destroy you with my desire,” some members of the crowd beam in solidarity, leaving the rest to shake in their boots.
Dedicating the lyrics for “God Loves Only You” to “the Christians and the Catholics,” Skin isn’t planning to miss any opportunities tonight to engage the audience in social commentary. The softer “I Hope You Get to Meet Your Hero” soothes the ears for a few minutes as Skin demonstrates her incredible vocal range, moving between the angst-ridden anthemic and the refined. Classic “Twisted” gets the crowds happily pogoing again, with the chorus “Cause everyday hurts a little more!” sung in unison, inevitably leading to the first crowd-surfing moment of the night.
We’re moving into the main part of the set, as the much-adored track “Weak” has the crowds in awe of Skin’s stunning vocals. Is it possible that she sounds even better live than recorded? Crowd-walking, she looms over the crowds, singing at the top of her lungs, “Weak as I am, am I too much for you?!” before she gracefully falls back onto the crowd who safely plants her back into the pit. Super-hit “Hedonism” enchants with its balance between delicate riffs and power vocals, with the line “Just because you feel good, doesn’t make you right” still carrying that punching sting after all these years.
For naysayers out there who think that Skunk Anansie have gone soft with the years, you may well have to eat your hat. Skin’s introduction to new track “This is Not a Game”: “We’ve been accused of being a little bit fucking political… (*crowd cheers*) We’ve been incredibly happy with our government… (*boos*) and we’re happy with how people have looked after our finances… (*boos*) and the pope says some wonderful things… (*boos*) so, if we’re a little bit political, please forgive us! This next one is about all those little motherfuckers! (*cheers*)” Later on, “Yes It’s Fucking Political” reinforces the band’s status as one of the more outspoken bands on the circuit, contrasting sharply with the softer band era that we’re currently suffering in the UK. We have missed these guys.
Rarely does an encore provide such a powerful trio as “Tear the Place Up,” “100 Ways to be a Good Girl,” and “Little Baby Swastikkka” – boom, boom, boom – from “Up, up, up, up!” blasted out by the bouncing crowd, to the beautifully dark intensity of “I know 100 ways to be a good girl / Still I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone” through to the edgy “You rope them in young / So small, so innocent, so young / So delicately done, grown up in your poison / Who put the little baby swastikka on the wall?” Wading her way through the thrilled crowds, Skin gets half the Academy to sit on the floor before launching into pogo mania, then crowd-surfs from the back of the room to the stage. After a blistering show, she looks like she could do it all over again: “We are Skunk Anansiiiiiiie!” The band graciously comes out to meet fans and sign merch, Skin goes clubbing for the night, and we join Cass for a quick pint at the local. Rock n Roll, Skunk Anansie style.