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LIVE REVIEW: Diablo Swing Orchestra, Underworld, London, 20/05/2023

The sun was shining in that way it does in the late spring, and a sold-out London Underworld begins filling up over an hour before the band hits the stage (to the pink elephant song from Dumbo) and the crowd is an intriguing mix of clear and obvious metalheads and people who wouldn’t look out of place at a cabaret show. When your sound owes as much to musical theatre and the sound of samba as it does System Of A Down, this makes more sense than one would assume.

The band, depending on who you are looking at, are either dressed for a great night out on the town or a delightful holiday somewhere where there is a reasonably priced beach bar, probably in the Bahamas. Opening with the samba inflected Guerrila Laments, the crowd feverishly lap up the sound and rhythm. Daniel Håkannson dedicated the show to one of the venue’s famous pillars, which can cause issues when actually trying to see the stage. Cellist Johannes Bergion reveals that he is very, very funny, as he first finds an official “cello holder” so he can have his time to shine during the surf rock influenced Saluting The Reckoning and then makes amusing comments about the chair situation.

What’s really striking seeing this band live is that the guitars absolutely wallop as hard as any heavier band you care to name. These songs sound absolutely enormous and when full on mosh pits that your average beatdown hardcore band would have to demand break out multiple times as the show goes on, its fabulous to see. Jig Of The Century sounded like System Of A Down in their prime, inspiring dancing and moshing in equal measure. What’s also really noticeable is that the band chooses not to resort to endlessly demanding more from its audience, the only bit of requested participation being the deranged chicken noises during War Painted Valentine, which was arranged with an efficiency your local council could only dream of. The multilayered vocals of Superhero Jagganath and the more chaotic version of these during Black Box Messiah are so much fun to sing along with too.

The musicianship on display, as a rule, is definitely top drawer. Six out of the eight band members sing some sort of vocal, multiple members play multiple instruments, and Kristin Evegård is both an excellent pianist and a gifted singer and her enthusiasm for the character of the songs is infectious, really selling the audience on the character and world of the songs. Her solo performance of New World Widows recontextualised an old favourite and was absolutely mesmerising to hear. As this lineup has been playing together for nearly a decade, and many of the musicians even longer, it really shows in how tight these very complicated pieces are played. Anders Johannson bass playing is criminally underrated and incredibly thick, as is the drumming of Johan Norbäck, casually moving through varying beat styles with the grace of a ballet dancer and the power of a rhino.

The production was minimal, but absolutely nobody seemed remotely bothered by that, not least when the music is so big and vibrant, full of twists and turns and influences from all over the musical landscape, nobody is asking for an excessive lightshow. Diablo Swing Orchestra as an octet is more than enough to bring the house down, then rebuild it with more sustainable materials.

There have been hardcore punk shows this reviewer has been to in this very year that had less of a mosh pit that DSO managed to inspire during Balrog Boogie with some people stomping around like it’s a Hatebreed show, in time to the swingtastic tune. Ending with Vodka Inferno, another incredibly enjoyable song that should have soundtracked a Tim Burton directed dance sequence, the crowd goes home after a two-hour jaunt through the bands delirious musical career.

It’s curious how this band has never been able to cultivate the following of a Devin Townsend or acts of a similar artistic vision in this era where throwing sounds into each other can yield immense success, because by the end of this absolutely exhilarating performance anyone who may have been dragged along by an excited partner or friend was having a blast. In a world where a short synth part or a single vocal line that is partially inspired by 90’s R&B is considered brave and challenging for a guitar band to have, Diablo Swing Orchestra have been dancing and swinging around these boundaries for twenty years, and seeing them do that in the flesh just underlines how spectacular they are and have always been. This Orchestra needs to swing by a bit more often, and you should all buy a ticket when they do. 9/10

Written by: Louis Tsangarides