Punks In The Arena, Rancid Shows Wembley How It’s Done

Off to one side of the stage at Wembley Stadium sits a group of elderly men on plastic office chairs. While the triumphant punk show illuminates the surprisingly packed arena, the old men seem amused. In their sweaters and glasses, they could be supporting their grandchildren at a school sports day. “These are our punk rock parents,” shouts the guitarist onstage before inviting a man from the back of the group with messy white hair in for a hug.

Then it clicks: that’s Charlie Harper from the recently retiring UK Subs (farewell tour September 23), long time collaborator with Lars Frederiksen. All the rest are introduced and, decades before, they were all punk originators.

Rancid @ Ovo Arena Wembley - 2023.06.20

Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine
Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine

Honouring his friend and fellow musician is a lovely gesture from Frederiksen, but at the same time it felt a little mournful. A thread running through Rancid’s show at Wembley was veneration for the first wave of punk: The Bronx listed their favourite British bands from the seventies too, for instance. Holding up musicians as idols isn’t very punk, and any iconoclastic spirit from the original groups seems to have been buried by the wayside. Similarly, the way Frederiksen introduced most of the songs sounded like he was reading out the captions from an art gallery or introducing sacred objects in a museum.

Their latest album was oddly absent from their setlist, aside from opening with Tomorrow Never Comes.  Considering this was the tour to promote that album, you have to wonder about their priorities. Was their purpose to showcase Rancid’s glory days?  Did they want to promote their status as historic punks at the expense of their (excellent) new material?

Rancid @ Ovo Arena Wembley - 2023.06.20

Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine
Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine

Ironically, Rancid were far from being relics as they were the most invigorated they’ve been in years onstage. Frederiksen, along with frontman Tim Armstrong and bassist Matt Freeman, have cleaned the nicotine stains from their vocal chords and can sing properly again for the first time in years.

Their set showed this off by relying heavily on their older songs, mostly from …And Out Come The Wolves, their 1995 magnum opus. This isn’t a bad thing: most of the audience were there for Ruby Soho and Timebomb after all, and both songs have lost none of their power in the years since their release. Armstrong jumps like he’s got an invisible skateboard tied to his feet without skipping a note, Freeman’s nimble fingers make light work of the bass solo in Maxwell Murder and Frederiksen performs The Wars End solo in a moment of vulnerability. Including deep cuts like I Wanna Riot and Rejected pay homage to the fans who’ve stuck by Rancid by rewarding them with something that reflects their knowledge of what the band were about.

The highlight from this era of their back catalogue must be Old Friend, their tale of heartache to a pumping ska beat is just as emotionally catching as it ever was, and the way Armstrong’s line ‘and you know, it’s gonna be alright…’ catches your guts and twists is visceral in it’s faded optimism.

Rancid @ Ovo Arena Wembley - 2023.06.20

Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine
Rancid, Ovo Arena Wembley, 20/06/23, Rockshot Magazine

Despite the unfortunate change of venue from what would have been a packed Brixton Academy to a partially full Wembley, there’s no difference for the crowd. We’re enraptured by the laser precision, heart and soul poured into each note by the band, feeding off seeing each other hug and bounce during their songs of friendship and perseverance. Rancid have always had that power to create a community of outsiders and the spirit of a hundred remembered skate parks flows through the audience with each lyric bellowed back to the band. It’s a show that the people will remember as being important somehow without being able to fully express why.

Was it worth the £8 cans of beer in paper cups, the borderline fascist bag checking and the soulless venue to see Rancid? Absolutely. They are not consigned to the past, though they appear to think they are. They’ve got a long road ahead of them if they want to take it, and a devoted fanbase willing to support them every step of the way. Rancid truly are a force in punk rock and need no helpful captions to tell us why!

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Review by Kate Allvey, photos by Pauline Di Silvestro for Rancid, The Bronx, The Skints at Wembley Arena on 20th June 2023.

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