One might expect a pop-punk show to be little more than fan service and nostalgia in 2017 – and for some bands that peddled four-chord progressions and punk jumps in unison throughout the early 2000s, this might be true. Gladly, the same can’t be said for Sum 41.
A band whose sound has been rooted in rock and metal, with the pop-punk aesthetic acting as more of a vessel than a strict signature, Deryck Whibley and gang have taken their stadium-worthy anthems even further into metal territory, delivering on his promise of a performance that’s “bigger and better than ever” at Singapore’s Zepp@BIGBOX.
Exploding onto the stage with it’s new five-piece formation, Whibley’s deathly thin figure, veiled by a cut-off Slayer tee (though he told us he prefers Iron Maiden only a day before), didn’t quite square with the amount of energy and swagger bursting from the frontman. After earning the audience’s attention with “The Hell Song”, the band kept the engine running hot with 13 Voices single “Fake My Own Death”, the first of many new songs that delivered a noticeably metal-inspired edge to create a dynamic set list.
Teasing audience members – affectionately dubbed “scumfuks” – Whibley probed, “You motherf**kers aren’t getting tired on me already, are you?” before inciting a circle pit set to guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh’s blazing guitar solo on “Goddamn I’m Dead Again”. There were plenty more of needless expletives in Whibley’s rapport throughout the night, but one could argue that it added to the nostalgia of feeling like a teenager again, chuckling with excitement at every “f**k” that intersected regular vocabulary.
Nostalgia isn’t something the band necessarily banks on, but it is something they’re bloody good at it whipping up. Take “Underclass Hero”, for example – all it took was to hear that bouncy, irresistibly upbeat riff to get the whole room jumping together, and the sudden appearance of giant balloons (with Whibley citing their importance to mark the band’s 21st birthday) made it hard for anyone not to grin with unbridled joy. It’s a rarity to witness a band that makes you truly want to jump while smiling ear to ear, among today’s contemporary acts that have aligned themselves with typically bleak lyrics and downbeat melodies.
That’s not to say that Sum 41 doesn’t have its fair share of slow jams in its repertoire, with the ballad-like “War” slowing the pace momentarily as Whibley offered a sombre message in tribute to Linkin Park‘s Chester Bennington. Similarly, “Pieces” eased the foot off the accelerator for crowd singalongs, with Whibley claiming that it would be his favourite “if he had to pick one,” echoed by screaming requests for the band to play the slow number. However, we suspect he may have been bluffing, purely based off the sheer energy and excitement visible in his showmanship immediately following in the Offspring-leaning “Welcome To Hell”. Even with slower numbers in the set, time flew by incredibly quickly, perhaps due to the seamless set list that included punky covers of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to keep the audience consistently enthralled.
Though beloved members of Sum 41 have come and gone, showmanship is an element of the band’s live show that has notably gained from the new five-piece lineup. While it’s sometimes hard to tell what the fifth member adds to fan favourites like “Still Waiting”, “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip” – partly due to the frenzied audience chants and full-swing crowd-surfing – guitarist Tom Thacker’s involvement adds welcome texture to more dynamic compositions like “Screaming Bloody Murder”, easily on the show’s highlights with its gentle piano-led intro and explosive chorus of harmony. And for those that really don’t need that extra guitar, it allows for Whibley to truly take advantage of the stage and interact with the audience like never before.
Though Whibley’s voice has lost a bit of the snarling grit over the years, having every member of the band support him with backing vocals, together with the cries of the crowd, puts the band at its most dynamic, thought-out and entertaining period of its illustrious career. With hundreds in the audience joining the “Sum 41 family” for the first time, it’s safe to say that there’ll be no shortage of fans keeping spirits high at the next family reunion in Singapore for the band’s awaited return.