Words and Photos by: Dick Slaughter Photography
The Echo on Sunset Blvd was the site of the first Bob Vylan headlining concert in the US. If you’re unfamiliar, Bob Vylan is a punk grim-hip-hop duo from East London consisting of two Bobbies: Bobby, frontman and vocals, and Bobbie, drums and samples. They’ve taken the U.K by storm over the last 2 years through their inimitable sound and confrontational lyrics, tackling explosive issues such as racism, classism and police brutality headfirst. Their second independently produced album, “Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life” has received critical acclaim and even reached number 18 on the UK album charts. Their recent performance at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival (the world’s largest punk festival) was one of the standouts of the weekend, -and- they just ended a 13-stop U.S tour with Amyl and the Sniffers and finished their visit to the colonies with a show at the Echo for 350 fans.
The evening’s opener was the genre-bending two- piece Holy Wars. Producer and guitar player Nicolas Perez laid out a wall of sound with rapid-fire guitar, samples, synth beats and possibly a drum machine while vocalist/performance artist Kat Leon, clad in a latex minidress belted out aggressive and thought-provoking lyrics in a style that was reminiscent of Lux Interior of the Cramps. Leon put on an energetic performance, jumping in and out of the crowd and sometimes grabbing an audience member and shaking the shit out of them. It was a spectacle of female ferocity, with a following of women not afraid to start a pit or get into a scuffle.. It was a fantastic set and my first time experiencing Holy Wars–and not likely my last.
The crowd had definitely filled in by the time Bobby and Bobbie took to the stage. They announced to the crowd that they would start their set as they usually did, with some stretching and meditation. When a few laughs came from the back of the room, Bobby chuckled back and said the ones that laugh are the people who don’t think we are serious. But it’s not a bad idea to do a little stretching before a Bob Vylan set; it might get a little froggy.
Bob Vylan launched into “I Heard You Want Your Country Back” and the place completely erupted into mayhem. It’s obvious that the twosome have their share of devoted American fans.. Bobby engaged the audience between songs, which was a good way for us to catch our breath. He recounted some of the band’s trials and tribulations on the Amyl and the Sniffers tour, claiming that the Australian band tortured them by playing Crocodile Dundee movies on a loop on the tour bus and constantly discuss the delights of Steve Irwin–which was obviously just fond ribbing as Dec Martens and Fergus Romer of the Sniffers were in attendance. They then fired out “Take That,” a song about tossing statues of Winston Churchill in the sea. Before launching into the rousing “Northern Line,” a song about–you guessed it–the trains in the UK, Bobby expressed his dismay over the lack of public transportation in America (particularly LA) and noted the abundance of pickup trucks.
His next intro featured an incident in Atlanta when they played the song “GDP”: apparently some of Bobby’s banter regarding the BBC and Fox News struck a nerve with a concert goer who heckled the band, yelling (absurdly) “Keep the politics out of it, dude!” Bobby, with a well-honed sense of irony, dryly responded, ”Well, you are going to love this next one then, son” and the Bobs strutted out with “We Live Here,” the band’s viral hit about growing up Black in England and grappling with racism head on. As the song commenced, an alleged scuffle ensued, and security showed the gentleman to the exit (you can watch most of it on Bob Vylan’s Twitter). To the LA crowd’s delight, they performed “We Live Here” next, this time without the heckling. Then came “CSGB” off their first album, one of many Bob Vylan songs about the possibility of someone getting punched in the face. After that Bobby requested that everyone put their phones down for the next song, “Phone Tap,”just so we could all experience something together without looking through a lens. Everyone obliged. I think during that song was the first time Bobby jumped into the crowd, but it was not the last. He must have been on and off that stage10 times.
About this time they switched the show into even higher gear: the shirts came off and antics got even crazier as they performed “Die Slow.” The little venue was all pit–there was no place that was not moving. There was one more conversation break which was a bit more somber. The boys expressed their sadness that they were in the States when Queen Elizabeth passed away; they were looking forward to getting home so they could dance at her grave. They ran through the next three songs: the appropriately titled “England is Ending,” “We Don’t Care” and “Pretty Songs,” the newest album’s most popular song judging by everyone knowing the words. They only stopped to invite the crowd on stage for the last song, “Wicked and Bad.” Only a few people went up at first, but with some encouragement about half the room flooded the stage. It was chaotic but a great time. As the song ended, Bobby said his goodbyes and thank yous but no one was leaving the stage– shouts of “One More!” and “Encore” echoed through the Echo. Bobby grinned and indeed gave us one more, with an explosive cover of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings.”
Bobby and Bobbie were gracious enough to chat with me briefly after the show, and something that really struck me was their thoughtful reflections on their American tour. Bob Vylan is on the verge of international fame, selling out 1500-seat venues in their native UK–but told me they were energized by the smaller crowds in the US. Bobby said it was exciting to see that they had work to do and room to grow, and that they would be back in May to galvanize and nurture their American fanbase. And that’s an essential part of Bob Vylan’s magnetism–their passion, humility, and the occasional assault on a Nazi.