Korn and Limp Bizkit, Wembley Arena, gig review: Two Titans of nu-metal bring the party like it’s 1999

Two of the biggest bands in one of the most divisive genres in metal team up to conquer the capital

Remfry Dedman
Monday 19 December 2016 13:14
Jonathan Davis performs in Los Angeles with Korn
Jonathan Davis performs in Los Angeles with Korn

As a genre, nu-metal has a very chequered history. Routinely mocked after it’s disintegration around 2002, it’s hard to deny that there appears to be a bit of resurgence in mixing metal guitars with hip-hop grooves and smothering it in a whole heap of teenage angst once again. Whatever your views on the genre (and if you like heavy music, you’re likely to have a view one way or the other) it’s difficult to argue that the last time rock music had any forceful major impact on the mainstream en masse was at the height of the nu-metal boom. Korn are the band most credited with inventing the genre with the release of their self-titled debut in 1994 and tonight, they’re back headlining an arena in the capital for the first time since 2002.

But first, we really need to talk about Limp Bizkit. Sure, they’re about as sophisticated as a sloth taking a shit and their music practically redefines the term ‘lowest common denominator’ but damn it, they’re a hell of a lot of fun this evening. Watching the crowd going crazy to turn-of-the-millennium anthems such as Rollin, My Generation and My Way, it’s difficult to deny that when Limp Bizkit want to turn up and completely decimate a room, they are more than capable.

In his white gloves and red trousers, Fred Durst does sometimes resemble a pissed off Mickey Mouse but bizarrely, this aesthetic fits perfectly with the band’s anthems-for-the-disaffected-with-an-MTV-gloss vibe. Of course, Wes Borland looks bonkers; dressed and painted from head-to-toe in white, he’s easily the most arresting focal point of the night, a constant whirlwind of energy who couldn’t look further away from the man who once quit Bizkit, claiming their music to be ‘silly, idiotic and bizarre’ (to be fair, he had a point). They’re hardly subtle; this is a band that begins their set with Hot Dog, a song which uses the f-word 48 times in just shy of four minutes, but when John Cooper Clarke swears like a trooper, it’s considered poetry, so you might want to consider climbing down from that high horse.

Wes Borland performs with Limp Bizkit

There are little teases of the dicking-about-with-covers routine that’s plagued Limp Bizkit shows in the last few years (riffs to Metallica’s ...And Justice for All, Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell and Guns N’ Roses’s Welcome to The Jungle are all sprinkled through-out the set) but for the most part, the party momentum is sustained enough for the set to not descend into cabaret. Speaking of covers, the best and possibly only decent cover to come out of the nu-metal era is played this evening in the form of Bizkit’s rendition of George Michael’s Faith, and of course it absolutely tears the roof off. When they follow this up with a seismic Break Stuff and Take A Look Around, it’s safe to say the band have conquered the room.

There’s undeniably a whiff of nostalgia to proceedings, with just one song in the set written this decade; how long they can keep playing shows to this reaction without a decent new record is debatable. But the crowd go absolutely wild for Limp Bizkit and tonight, it’s easy to see why. During a raucous Livin’ it Up, Durst heads down to the front rows and, somewhat bizarrely declares to the sea of outstretched arms before him ‘It smells so good down here ... smells like victory!’ Despite it being somewhat of a baffling statement (does victory have a smell?), looking out at the assembled throng, it’s hard to disagree with him.

Korn’s sound live is undeniably powerful, they’re distinctive brand of de-tuned bottom-end riffing being low enough to make the seats of this building reverberate to the pulse of their music. At times, it’s akin to watching a gig sitting on a washing machine, (and if that isn’t going to sell tickets next time Korn roll into town, I don’t know what will!). But despite them being one of the most reliable live bands in metal today, they do initially suffer after the Limp Bizkit party; people are pumped, but it’s fair to say noticeably less pumped than they were for ‘Da Bizkit’ (as the kids never call them).

Korn seem intent on trying to cover as much of their 12-album career as possible, and there’s much to admire in that line of thought, but the beginning of their set does suffer as a result. Say what you will, the likes of Coming Undone and new track Insane (from this year’s The Serenity of Suffering) are never going to match some of the hits they didn’t play (Got the Life, Get Up!, Dead Bodies Everywhere) and the less said about their risible cover of Word Up! by soul/funk hybrid Cameo, the better.

But once they do hit their stride, roughly a third of the way into the 75 minute set, they barely put a foot wrong; you can’t argue with the likes of Falling Away From Me, Make Me Bad and Freak on a Leash. The moment when 12,000 people scream the three most famous words in nu-metal at the peak of Blind’s monolithic build is still absolutely spine-tingling. There are few moments in music history where you can pin-point the exact moment a genre was created but Jonathan Davis’s clarion cry of ‘Are You Ready?’ 49 seconds into the opening song of their debut album is one such rare moment. Incredibly, tonight Davis sounds better than ever, particularly on a rabid Twist and cataclysmic rendition of Good God, by far and away the highlight of the set.

Considering the band has such a wealth of material, it’s a shame that they only play 15 songs – it does feel as if a band of their history and back-catalogue should really be playing 2 hour shows by now. But, at their peak, Korn prove their worth as a band that have weathered various storms and not just survived, but thrived over their 23 year career.

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