Jonathan Davis + In Search Of Sun @ O2 Academy Islington, London

Date: 7th June 2018
Review by: Beandog

Allow me to start from a point of full disclosure.

I haven’t taken much of an interest in Jonathan Davis’ career since the tail-end of the nineties. At the time, Nu Metal was rapidly shifting away from something that had begun as a fresh take on heavy music and was moving towards a commercially driven version of itself that was struggling to retain credibility in the UK metal scene.

Prior to all of that, I HAD been a big fan of Jonathan Davis’ work on the earliest Korn albums. He certainly deserves credit for taking the “vulnerable frontman” role that Kurt Cobain and his American, grunge contemporaries had brought into vogue a few years before, and raising the bar considerably.

On Korn’s first recorded efforts, Davis’ performances were raw and delivered with an emotional honestly that was a great deal heavier and compelling than the bloated, superficial goldmine that Nu Metal quickly became. I’d challenge anyone listening to Jonathan Davis trying to hold the melody through his tears on Daddy (from Korn’s debut) not to acknowledge it as a credible and powerful performance. All that being said, Nu Metal’s questionable reputation in it’s latter days has me carrying a degree of cynicism this evening.

To be fair, this ISN’T a Korn show, and I am intrigued to see what differentiates a JD solo show from his main gig. But, being honest, the most I am hoping for is a nostalgic visit to a time when my trousers were baggy enough to be a significant health and safety risk in high winds.

Enthusiastic, UK, Prog’ Metallers, In Search Of Sun open the show. Judging by the healthy attendance early in the evening and the warm welcome they are given, it’s a safe bet they have brought in a good number of their own fans tonight.

A loud cheer erupts as they take to the stage and bound into the first song of a brief set. Frustratingly, the sound doesn’t quite match up to the energy being thrown into their performance and the first song is hampered by a limp mix that sounds far too thin.

This doesn’t deter the band, who plow into a committed and confident set. By the second song the drummer is pulling on some formidable chops and the two guitarists are twisting their progressive riffs around the frontman’s impressive range.

The sound seems to improve too. A few songs in and thankfully, there is a lot more musical muscle coming from the speakers.

In Search of Sun will appeal to those who like well constructed, technically impressive music with clean melodic vocals. For my taste, there IS room for a little more spit and a bit less polish, but I can’t fault their conviction and they certainly get a positive response from the crowd.

In the time it takes me to get another beer, the stage has already been prepared for Jonathan Davis‘ set. A huge backdrop bearing the man’s initials, most likely created for larger festival shows juuuust about fits across the back wall. There is a bank of synths on the right and a huge drum kit that dominates the left side of the stage.

Ahead of Davis’ arrival, my curiosity is peaked as the band take their positions. Chris Nix on guitar, Sven Martin on keyboards. The bassist, Brian Allen picks up an upright double bass, which it turns out will be used for the duration of the performance. Then, where I had expected a second guitarist to stand, Emilio “Zef” China takes his spot holding on to an electric violin. It’s an unconventional line up that bodes well for an interesting show.

Behind the drums, Davis’ bandmate from Korn, Ray Luzier takes his place and rattles through some impressive moves as the show begins and Jonathan Davis appears.

The band launch into Underneath My Skin and the first thing I notice is just how good the sound is. While I am in absolutely no doubt that Davis can afford to pick from the very best, there is something, unexpectedly breathtaking about watching this level of musicianship in such a comparatively small venue. From the first moments of the set this sounds like a stadium show squeezed into a club.

There is also an organic quality to the music that didn’t seem immediately apparent on the new album. While Black Labyrinth does have some interesting elements to it (Notably, eastern percussion and world music influences), to my ears, having listened to it earlier in the day it had sounded cold and processed, as if it had been compressed or constructed from samples.

On stage, the music comes across as a very different beast. Big, lively, booming and vibrant. At this early stage in the set, and bearing in mind my initial reticence, I feel like this is a clear win for Jonathan Davis. He croons and howls his way through Everyone, Forsaken and Final Days and I find myself texting a friend in acknowlegment of how I’d underestimated my expectations of the evening. I even considered eating my hat.

The man himself is on good form. Unsurprisingly for someone who has spent twenty years playing to very large crowds, he makes for a compelling frontman. Tonight he seems comfortable, confident and completely relaxed on stage. As a stark contrast to my expectations, he also seems to be having FUN. There is a genuine appreciation for the audience’s positive response and I am impressed by the crowd’s respectful acceptance of a set that is almost entirely taken from the new album. There are no impatient call outs for Korn hits; indeed, Davis does not venture into his day job at all. The only deviation from his solo work is a playful country/funk jam and a sincere cover of Neil Diamond’s Love On The Rocks to close the main set. I’m impressed.

Jonathan Davis has put on a great show tonight. His band have been jaw-droppingly good and provided a driving, heavy backdrop to the frontman’s undeniable charisma. The nostalgic curiosity I felt at the beginning of the evening has been replaced by an acknowledgement that JD still has something unique and enjoyable to offer. More fool me for doubting that.

Setlist:

Underneath My Skin
Everyone
Forsaken
Final Days
What You Believe
Basic Needs
Slept So Long
Medicate
Play Video
Your God
System
Please Tell Me
Walk on By
Jam Session
Love on the Rocks
(Neil Diamond cover)

Encore:
What It Is
Happiness

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