Sum 41, Kentish Town Forum, 2005 & Sum 41, The Dome Tufnell Park, 2020 When I was 12 I was handed Sum 41’s blockbuster ‘All Killer, No Filler’ and I fell instantly in love. Fast forward 3 years and I’d get to see them as my first ever Academy size show. Fifteen years later, I was blessed by another opportunity; an exclusive and intimate show at The Dome, just over 500m away from the Kentish Town Forum, where I’d seen them play 15 years before.
In this article, I will aim to discuss how those two experiences compared, and if and how the band’s delivery has changed over the years.
Sum 41, Kentish Town Forum, 2005
I remember arriving at the Forum in Kentish Town, my home town, on the 17th of July 2005. The Forum is a special place for me. Three generations of my family have called it their watering hole and this was my first experience of it. We arrived early, very early, at around 2pm on a hot summer Sunday. There was already a queue of eager fans sitting on the floor inside the barriers. We duly joined the queue and nestled in to a crusty, dirty, crevasse in the wall with paint peeling from it. Almost immediately, we were accosted by friendly boy and a girl in front of us in the queue for a chat about who we were, where we were from and so on. I was in love already. We passed time making runs to the nearby shop as the queue grew longer and the services of the adjacent Pentecostal Church came and went.
After many (non-alcoholic) drinks and a long wait, we were primed and ready. From the outside, the Forum is an imposing Art Deco structure with strong distinguishing features, and this does not diminish once inside. I was struck by the size of the venue; I’d never been to one so big, but also by the split floor arrangement with a sunken dancefloor area in front of the stage and an elevated area to the rear of the venue. I was relieved because being only 15, I was not the tallest and the split floor arrangement gave me hope that there would be somewhere in the venue I could see the show if all else failed. However this would not be necessary. Positioned second row from the front, we waited for the gig to start.
The support were Engerica, a mercurial mix of punk, grunge, rock ‘n roll and metal which earned them a nomination for ‘Best Newcomer 2006’ at the Metal Hammer Awards. The energetic and charismatic performance generated some new fans, evidenced by some of the audience, including myself, being recruited as extra in their upcoming video ‘The Smell’ (2006).
By the time their set had ended, the venue was full to the brim, as was the anticipation. The main act arrived on stage amid chants of ‘Sum-41’, the lights came on and I experienced my first ever ‘crush’. I had a small girl in front of me, so I locked my arms against the bar in front to protect her from the crush and strapped in for the ride. Although the set was more focussed towards ‘Does This Look Infected’ and the more recent release ‘Chuck’, it featured all the classics. A spotless performance all round was topped off my ‘Fat Lip’ for the encore in a set that saw a crowd constantly jumping over one another in a mix of pure adrenaline and ecstasy. The stage presence of Derek Whilby was impressive as he leaned over the crowd on multiple occasions to spur them on and they obliged with gusto. During the encore, the instruments dropped out for the lyric ‘My dad just said my mom should have had an abortion’ and the sing along from the crowd was deafening and hair-raising and that was it. The cries of ‘one more song’ were in vain and as the house lights came on, I was struck by the sheer number of people scrabbling around the beer-soaked floor to retrieve lost items, a sign of a truly great night.
As my first big-gig experience it was quintessential, I experienced the long wait in the queue, the crush, a sing along and the scrabble over the floor for lost items. It had it all and I was hooked.
Sum 41, The Dome Tufnell Park, 2020
Fifteen years later and it was announced Sum 41, now with Frank Zummo in lieu of Steve Jocz and Tom Thacker added on guitar, would play in an intimate show as a warm up show, on the 20th of January 2020, for their upcoming tour. The Dome in Tufnell Park was a new venture of a venue for me, something of a rarity these days. It’s a small, unassuming venue to the rear of the infamous Boston Music Rooms. Identifiable by a small banner and a shutter amidst a brick wall, one could mistake the Dome for an office space. However, this façade is an effective and deceptive.
We arrived early, but nowhere near as early as the Forum and we grabbed a few cans and watched as the steady stream of dedicated fans began to steam in. Once the queue had subsided slightly, we joined, only to be confronted by one of the most hard working and recognisable faces on the London gig circuit, Will the Flyer Guy. With his burst of enthusiasm, we got talking to some more people in the queue and it all started to feel like 2005 again. It was glorious. After a thorough but fair search, something non-existent at the Forum in 2005, we were in. The venue leads you upstairs past the internal smoking area, which was incredibly handy as it negated any wristband or stamp wrangling and also meant space was abundant, rather than packed in to a small area on the street. We had arrived at doors with the anticipation of an unannounced support act, but alas this was not the case. The bar was adequately stocked and, although a little slow at times was barely 20m from the front of the stage which meant popping off for a drink wouldn’t result in missing any of the show. The venue is intimate indeed, probably fitting around 250 people in total.
A DJ attempted to entertain the crowd as the fans packed in tightly around the front of the stage with more space for dancing at the rear and when the main act entered, it all came flooding back. The set began in a flurry of energy and ‘Never Wake Up’ still sticks with me from the early set due to the absolute melee in the crowd in which my partner lost her glasses. There were arms, legs, bums everywhere as the crowd lapped up every second, dancing, surfing, singing along. The set felt more like a Greatest Hits Album, played to perfection, with a smattering of classics from all of the albums with special attention paid to ‘All Killer, No Filler’. A surprise was ‘In Too Deep’ in the middle of the set which reinvigorated the crowd and a sing along during the lyrics ‘Something’s telling me I’m In Too Deep’ which was deafening.
Derek Whilby looked fit, healthy and beamingly happy, a far cry from the troubling images during his battles with mental and physical health, Dave Baksh looked to be enjoying himself with flawless nonchalant guitar solos and occasional vocal contributions from Jason ‘Cone’ McCaslin really bought the show to life. The sound was strangely tight for a smaller venue with neither volume nor quality compromised, hitting all the key points well with only a couple of technical hiccups along the way. It was so enjoyable I found myself desperately trying to catch my breath between hit after hit. A respectable and respectful pit operated throughout with no sign of space issues. There was no encore as they played straight through capping off with ‘Fat Lip’ again with another incredible sing along and that was it. It was almost surreal how well they performed, despite all the issues over the years. There were no small parts or weak voices with Zummo and Thacker blending in like original cast members.
In summary, much has changed in those 15 years, new band members, new security procedures and new venues, but what hasn’t changed is the quality with which Sum 41 and their fan’s energy and dedication at their shows. At times I could close my eyes and it might as well have been 2005. Many fans either didn’t get to see Sum 41 prior to their hiatus or just haven’t got round to them yet, but one thing is for sure, those who will get to Slam Dunk Festival or any of the rescheduled tour dates will be in for one hell of a show.