L.A. band Badflower on their first European headline tour prove rock is indeed alive and kicking with the younger music fans, and it’s emotional and angry.
So, what do you do when you hear that a U.K. band named The Badflowers has had to change their name because, across the pond, there’s already a band named Badflower, who have been making quite a name for themselves? You’d most likely check out this band which, up until this moment, you hadn’t even known existed, and what a find it proves to be. This was just before L.A. based quartet, Badflower , released their debut album OK I’m Sick in February of this year.
Formed in 2013, Badflower comprises vocalist/rhythm guitarist Josh Katz, lead guitarist Joey Morrow, bassist Alex Espiritu, and drummer Anthony Sonetti, retaining the same lineup to this day.
Still relatively unknown in the UK amongst the classic rock generation of gig-goers, Badflower has amassed a growing following of younger music fans through YouTube and Spotify. They had a No. 2 hit last year in the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock charts with their second single “Ghost”, a cathartic song about self-harm and suicide, penned by frontman Josh Katz, simply because he felt a need to write down his feelings. He was initially hesitant to even show the lyrics to his bandmates, let alone have it released as a single. No one could have foreseen the impact this song, based on honesty and personal experience, would have on a generation who clearly feel a deep connection with its lyrics.
Badflower’s next single “Heroin”, about addiction to a toxic person, gained them their first No 1 on the Billboard charts, opening up opportunities for the band to support the likes of Greta Van Fleet, Of Mice & Men, and UK band The Struts, who have seen more success in the States than they’ve yet seen in their native U.K. Badflower have certainly been making waves, attracting a new generation of music fans to the rock scene, selling out venues across the U.S. and attracting thousands of new fans whenever they make festival appearances. Having spent the summer on the road, supporting Shinedown on their North American Tour, they will without doubt have left many new fans in their wake.
With just six U.K. dates on this, their first European headlining tour, and having previously played only one U.K. headline date at London’s The Dome in April (reviewed by National Rock Review), as well as a set at the Download Festival, we are keen to catch up on how the acclaimed debut album OK I’M SICK is going down with the fans.
Being a University Students’ Union gig, it is inevitable that a large percentage of those at the sold-out show would be 18 to twenty-somethings, but it is heartening to see a spattering of us older folk.
Entering the stage to a crescendo of sound and light, the band bounds onto the stage, kicking off with “Wide Eyes”, the first of eight tracks from their debut album to be played tonight. This is taken up another notch when, to the delight of the crowd, the band launches into “x ANA x”, in which frontman Josh opens up about his struggles with mental health and anxiety before going on stage. The pace is energetic and a little chaotic, the anxiety beautifully captured in the rhythm of the infectious guitar riffs, conveying to the crowd the sense of panic Josh might be feeling right now.
So far, Josh seems to be coping pretty well. He’s a captivating frontman, coming across as likeable, humble, and funny, as he chats amicably with the crowd.
With a play of the debut single “Soap”, from 2015, the crowd is wholeheartedly dancing and singing along in full chorus. The introduction to the next song as the song which pissed off half of America and has perhaps prevented them from being a bigger band today brought cheers and whoops of excitement from the crowd. From its first fuzzy guitar riffs, the crowd knows it’s now back to the new album with “Die”. The heaviest tune of the night, the energy both on and off stage is electric. There can be no anti-Trump song out there as catchy as this one, with no holds barred in the lyrics or in their primal, angry delivery. It gives hope to see young bands bringing back political protest to music and this young university crowd tonight are totally animated, engaging with the sentiments of the song and the scathing lyrics.
Quenching the exhilaration of “Die”, the pace slows down but remains on high emotion, albeit anxiety rather than anger, with the beautiful and heartbreakingly introspective lyrics and melody of “24”, also from the debut album.
Playing all four tracks from their 2018 EP, Temper, “White Noise”, “Drop Dead”, “Let The Band Play” and “Animal” is welcomed by the crowd, who clearly know the lyrics to every Badflower track which has ever been posted or released. During previous shows, Josh has invited individuals in the crowd to join him onstage to play alongside during “Animal” and tonight was no exception as Josh invites three members of the crowd who have been holding up placards asking to be called onstage. A very creditable performance follows from the three youngsters, who turn out to be from a local band and know all the riffs and lyrics. Meanwhile, Josh and Joey are off crowd surfing the euphoric fans in the mosh pit. Thankfully, they are returned to the stage in one piece.
As the band leave the stage for a moment, we feel privileged as the solitary frontman starts strumming the chords to “Move Me”, a song about the heartbreak of a broken relationship, which has never been released or made available for streaming, and can only be heard on YouTube. Josh’s vulnerability in his delivery is breathtaking and, as the song builds up in emotion, it explodes as the band return and join in. Despite calls for this track to be released for streaming or download, Josh has refused, saying it is about his raw emotions and that he doesn’t want to have “to change anything about it for some guy in a suit”. It is truly a special moment to hear this performed live
The band pays homage to the influence of 90s alt-rockers, Oasis, on their music, with their cover version of “Champagne Supernova” merging it seamlessly into their wonderfully melodic “Mother Mary”. The only other cover version played tonight is “Bury A Friend” from Billie Eilish, an artist much admired by the band.
“The Jester”, written as far back as 2013, about not being respected or taken seriously by the music industry is, ironically, currently the most played rock song in the U.S. Featuring on the debut album, and recently released as a single, it has jumped to No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs airplay chart. This is greeted with wild cheers from the word-perfect crowd.
Last song of the set is the raucous and sexually charged “Girlfriend”. It proves extremely popular with the crowd, with its funky, hip-hop influenced verses about lust, online obsession, and stalking.
Josh announces that it is customary that they now go off stage and wait whilst we, the audience, call out for more and shout “One more song”, that after a few minutes they will return to the stage and play a couple more songs for us. The fans almost bring the roof down dutifully doing what is asked of them.
Badflower has, in fact, saved three of their most successful and heart-wrenching tracks for the encore. The excitement of the crowd rises to fever pitch as the band kick off the encore with “Heroin”, their first No.1 single. About addiction to a toxic person, using the addiction to the drug metaphorically, the mellow verses explode into the loud and powerful choruses expressing the anger at not being able to control the addiction.
“Heroin” could be a tough song to follow, but this band has a no shortage of equally emotionally powerful songs. “Ghost’, their highly acclaimed first single from the album, is a compelling first-person tale of overwhelming despair and suicide. The emotion is palpable and there is an undeniable connection between the band and their fans as everyone sings along with tears in their eyes. We are left hanging on those unforgettable, final words “This life is overwhelming and I’m ready for the next one”.
The beautifully poignant and anthemic “Promise Me”, the third single from the album winds up an impressive, crowd-pleasing set. Telling the nostalgic story of the fear of growing old with a partner, losing them, and the refusal to accept their passing, Josh’s emotional delivery and the haunting background music means the evening ends with not a dry eye in the house.
Watching the enthusiasm of the young crowd tonight, it is evident that a secret revolution is happening on YouTube and Spotify, which many of us older rock fans have been completely unaware of. At a time when depression, internet bullying, and suicide amongst younger people is on the increase, Badflower deals with the often ignored issues such as abuse, depression, suicide, and anxiety, along with other topics relevant to their generation. In an interview, Josh has said that the band wanted to make the first rock album that belongs solely to this generation, without trying to sound like their influences and ending up writing generic, vague music which all have heard a million times. They have certainly succeeded in doing so. Whilst the current music scene boasts the revival of original bands from the 70s and 80s, or young bands wanting to recreate their sound, Badflower offers a completely fresh take.
Badflower’s groove-laden, melodic music, whilst taking influences across the board, from bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Oasis, and Foo Fighters to 90s grunge, and emo music, mixes hard, raw ,and angry alt-rock with pop-infused twists, so it cannot be pigeon-holed into any one genre, which is exactly how the band want it to be.
A band as original and authentic as Badflower only comes about once in a generation. Whilst each member is a talented musician, it is Josh’s extraordinary songwriting skills, based on storytelling and purging his demons with the emphasis on lyrics and emotion, which make Badflower stand out from the rest. They should certainly be on everyone’s radar as the ‘ones to watch’. If they continue to write songs of this quality and put on performances like they did tonight, it won’t be long before Badflower will be headlining and selling out arenas.
Event Date: 22-NOV-2019
Photos: Eric Duvet Photography