The Used prove they are here to stay – review

The Used prove they are here to stay – review

“We’ve been an emo band for 23 years,” shouts Bert McCracken, illuminated beneath a crimson spotlight. “We never broke up, we never took a break, we never went anywhere. We have been here the whole f****ng time.”

We’re at O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, on a chilly December evening to see Utah-formed quartet The Used, who shot to fame all the way back in 2002 after the release of their first Self-Titled album. Now, more than two decades on, they’re back to perform their first UK tour in five years – The Toxic Positivity Tour.

“If it weren’t for you and your love and support we wouldn’t still be here so thank you,” frontman Bert earnestly tells the crowd. For many here, The Used were a band that soundtracked their transformative teenage years, carrying them through into adulthood.

The average age of the crowd is noticeably older than it would have been back in the 2000s, but – for a lot of people – this isn’t their first time seeing the emo four-piece. In fact, the band has drawn fans in from overseas. On our way to the venue, we meet a couple who have made the journey from Norway, especially for this show.

On the band’s Instagram page, they’ve posted a video of fans waiting to meet them at Glasgow’s date two nights prior. “I came all the way from Spain to see them,” says one fan excitedly. And The Used’s gratitude can be felt in waves, washing across the crowd.

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The set is an explosion of old songs, harkening back to their tornado of a first album, all guttural screaming and cutting lyrics, peppering in newer songs from over the years. It’s clear the setlist has been put together with the mix of first-timers and long-standing fans in mind.

The band erupt on stage with 2007’s Pretty Handsome Awkward, noticeably buzzing with excitement to be back in front of UK crowds. Head-to-toe in black, frontman Bert energetically dives across the stage, signature neon pink microphone in hand.

As the first lines of the song rage throughout the space, he raises the microphone stand in the air, like a king commanding his subjects with a sceptre. The lights overhead transition to a deep shade of red, as the opening chords of ’Take it Away’ from their second album, In Love and Death, ring out.

Bert’s voice has noticeably improved since the band’s early years, though he focuses more on the melodic part of songs these days, while bass guitarist Jeph Howard steps up for most of the screaming sections in older tracks. But the unique texture of McCracken’s vocals remains the same as it ever was.

The years of near non-stop touring mean that technically The Used are on top form. And though guitar player Joey Bradford only joined the band in 2018, if you didn’t know, you’d think he’d been there since day one.

Bert’s journey into sobriety is partly to thank for why The Used are so much more polished than they once were – as polished as the chaos of this alternative rock band can be. “If you or someone you know struggles with addiction, I’m telling you if there’s hope for someone like me, there is hope for someone like you as well,” he tells the crowd.

“Do not give up on yourselves, alright?” But while Bert might have changed up his lifestyle, his onstage presence hasn’t faltered or softened as a result. He’s the same quirky, distinct, rock ringmaster that he’s ever been, encouraging the crowd to boo the band after their loathe-filled 2023 release People are Vomit.

“Doesn’t that feel good?” Bert grins. “When is the last time you got to boo a f****ng band, it’s f****ng crazy.” At one point, he throws a cup of water into the crowd, only for fans to launch one right back at him and he laughs to himself.

And the rest of the band join in the high-jinx too. Even from the back of the stage, positioned behind his mighty drum kit, Dan Whitesides still manages to have some banter with the audience, reacting to the chaos unfolding in front of him.

The music is gnarly and nostalgic, but you get so much more at a The Used show – and not always the kind of entertainment you’d expect.

Between songs, Bert whips up a “big fat circle pit” which spins at his feet while he recites his “favourite soliloquy in the world”: William Shakespeare’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow, from gothic tragedy Macbeth. It’s a commentary on the futility of life that echoes the sentiment of many of McCrackens’ own lyrics.

Newer tracks, from 2022 onwards, get noticeably less attention from the crowd than the more classic hits. Perhaps that’s why they chose to perform just three songs from this period, before giving concertgoers what they seemingly really want. The promise of some “older s**t” is met with a cheer.

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Bert brings out a Pride flag for the 2004 love song I caught fire, before an emotional rendition of their breakout song The Taste of Ink. Standing at the edge of the stage, the singer commands the crowd like the captain of a ship, hands outstretched towards him as the lyrics “as long as you’re alive, here I am” echoed around the venue. This song means something, to the band and to the crowd – that much is clear.

Bert teases that the ten-track setlist is about to come to an end, but treats fans to an extra three songs to round off the night. The atmosphere is electric as renewed energy sends a surge through the crowd. “This is the greatest song ever written,” he screams, bringing the band’s return to London to a passionate end with the rising crescendos and lawless screams of A Box Full of Sharp Objects, before showering the crowd an armful of white roses.

In 23 years, The Used have grown and changed as a foursome, but they haven’t abandoned their audience. And it’s clear from tonight’s performance, they are here to stay.

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