Therapy? @ O2 Institute, Birmingham – 02 February 2024

Tonight, Northern Ireland alt-metallers Therapy? play their rescheduled and final ‘Hard Cold Fire’ show in Birmingham. It might be happening a little later than planned, but the O2 Institute’s second room is full to the brim and buzzing for the occasion.

As an introduction, Killing Joke’s haunting masterpiece ‘Love Like Blood’ delivers both nostalgic reflection and a shiver down the spine, not to mention a nod to the recent passing of Geordie Walker from a band influenced by the unique guitar hero. It rolls out a deliciously dark underlay for Andy Cairns to climb aboard with the choppy riff laden opener ‘They Shoot the Terrible Master’, from the bands sixteenth studio album, ‘Hard Cold Fire’.

It’s been a while since I last saw Therapy? Nine years ago in fact, at the hidden gem of a venue – Gloucester Guildhall – and once again it’s a compact and intimate affair tonight at Birmingham’s O2 Institute 2. Starting with a mix of the old and new: ‘Nausea’, and the recent single ‘Joy’, the first wave of pogo-tastic vibes are delivered, before the ultimate adolescent misery of Joy Division‘s ‘Isolation’, sweeps up anybody who has been left behind.

Cairns thanks the crowd for coming out “despite the state of the world”, and asks: “Do you want one off Troublegum?” From their iconic post-grunge album comes the dark and moody ‘Unbeliever’, followed by a handful from the catalogue, including new tracks ‘Bewildered Herd’ and ‘Two Wounded Animals’. Whatever the song, bassist Michael “Evil Priest” McKeegan is up front, beaming his smile into the crowd, encouraging lyrical participation, and having a ball.

For ‘Woe’ I’m drawn to Neil Cooper on drums, for his three minutes of controlled belligerence, before rocker ‘Poundland of Hope and Glory’ really starts to goad the bounce out of anybody resistant until now. These are another two from the ‘Hard Cold Fire’ album, which I’m so pleased we hear 9 of 10 from during the show. It seems everybody else feels the same way, and for a band in its 35th year of existence, having the ability and freedom to do so, is pretty fantastic.

Throughout the set there’s still time for the emotional torment, angst and darkness of ‘Neck Freak’, ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’, and the 1995, Hüsker Dü cover ‘Diane’ – which sounds like a classic Therapy? song more than most. An insanely energetic version of ‘Teethgrinder’ helps lead the way to the end, and from their finest hour is the ever majestic ‘Die Laughing’, which Cairns dedicates to the late Sinead O’Connor and Shane MacGowan.

The encore is a celebration of the tour, Neil’s birthday (cue the chant: “Neil, Neil, drum like a motherfucker!”) and paying homage to the home of metal. ‘Potato Junkie’ segues in and out of Sabbath‘s ‘Iron Man’, and following ‘Ugly’ and ‘Screamager’ comes a version of the Judas Priest classic ‘Breaking the Law’. Finally, is that pop rocking jewel of the 90’s, ‘Nowhere’, bringing a fantastic gig to a close and Cairns exclaiming: “We are Therapy? and we love you!”

While ‘Troublegum’ remains legendary in the hearts and minds of many who lived and played throughout the mid-90’s, the authenticity, black humour and melodic sensibility of the band has carried way beyond that period. Never out to dupe their audience, Therapy? continue to thrive, with a catalogue of superb material and memorable performances, as we’ve witnessed tonight. For their dedicated fanbase, long may that continue.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston