Chubby and the Gang-The Bullingdon-Oxford-25/11/2021 Live Review

Photo by Owen Harvey @ Rolling Stone

Despite being a group made up of various beloved UK Hardcore bands, West London’s Chubby and the Gang share more in common with 80’s punk rock bands like The Ramones and Peter And The Test Tube Babies. Coupled with their authentic sense of a strong working-class ethos and emphasis on anthemic songwriting rather than throwdown music, they have been a breath of fresh air in a scene that can feel one-note at times. I had seen their name around various DIY show posters online and only finally got to appreciate them during the first lockdown. Formed a few months just before COVID hit, Chubby had accomplished their first US tour and released a full-length record Speed Kills produced by Jonah Falco of Fucked Up.

After being teased with normality throughout 2020, it was announced that they’d signed to Partisan Records, escalating their success to wider audiences without any need to compromise. Their second record The Mutts Nuts saw the band progress into a much more diverse sounding band yet retaining their harder-hitting moments. When the poster for their Winter 2021 tour was announced I couldn’t believe how many different venues they were hitting up over such a long period of time. The fact that a punk show was happening in Oxford given how scarce shows, in general, are in this neck of the woods, I grabbed a ticket instantly.

Oxfordshire locals Basic Dicks set off the show with unbridled chaos. Their brand of lo-fi scrappy hardcore mixed with blunt vocal delivery changed the atmosphere of The Bullingdon from a pensive, freezing Thursday night bar into a room of transfixed punks, appreciative of every note strung out. The mantra “Life gave me lemons and I fucking hate lemonade” from Frown, sounded even more visceral and pissed off in a live setting, as well as being highly relatable.

Fuzzbrain Studio’s house band Micromoon followed shortly after. They delivered euphoric shoegaze made by hardcore kids that I could happily shove my head into an amp to because of their thick layers of unforgiving dissonance. I have a soft affinity for bands where the frontperson is also their drummer. Ben Spence’s sinister but reserved vocals contrasting his intense, technically impressive drum fills added another level of hypnotic enjoyment to their set. Think of modern gaze bands like Nothing and Cloakroom, but with a twist of deadpan, bleak disposition that only UK bands know how to do best.

Having watched a fair few videos online over the last few months, admittedly it felt jarring seeing Chubby and the Gang play with a barrier on stage, right after supporting Amyl & The Sniffers at Electric Ballroom in London. Swapping the usual never-ending stage dives and mics shoved down gob’s vibe for a more contemporary rock and or roll one, Charlie Manning and co waste absolutely no time fucking about. Zooming through cuts like ‘Coming Up Tough’ and ‘Lightning Don’t Strike Twice’, you can’t help but grin like a moron at their satisfying riffs and gang vocal chants, feeling like you’re part of something more than just the joyfully pissed off appeal of punk rock.

There’s simply no time for painfully obvious speeches about how shit the world is for anyone who isn’t a rich white straight tory, just hit after hit with an audience basking in their glory without having to lift a finger in response. That isn’t a slight on the audience either, as the focus on Chubby raw delivery rather than trying to look cool snapped in a zine 6 months from now was something I did not expect to see or find a nice change of pace. There was an overwhelming sense of optimism and pride in their performance that surpasses dull labels like ‘pub rock’, especially when you can tell they absolutely practice what they preach. The subtle influence of doo-wop and blues amongst their unrelenting momentum works immaculately, adding a distinctive touch to their balls to the wall repertoire.

And just like that, the show was over. I wasn’t quite sure how well their headline tour would go down in places where eclectic shows are less frequent, but the response tonight from everyone around me made me feel like I’d watched something dear to me. Somehow they managed to find that sweet balance between invigoration and comfort. I’ve never felt cool enough to be part of hardcore despite having gone to said shows for almost 10+ years at this point, I don’t know where they will be this time next year but I do know that at this moment, Chubby and the Gang fucking rule, ok?

Advertisements

Sinead O’Brien – Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds – 24/10/31 Live Review

Photo by Aimee Ferrier

Taking to the stage in Hyde Park Book Club’s grungy basement, Irish fashion designer turned performer Sinead O’Brien transformed a dull Sunday night into an incredible display of punk poetic excellence. It is clear O’Brien takes influence from punk icons such as Patti Smith and Mark E. Smith, so it was only apt for her to walk on stage to the driving guitar riffs of The Fall’s Blindness. Clad head to toe in leather, O’Brien looked every part the performer, owning the stage with a confident ease, effortlessly performing her poetry over the crashing of drums and heavy guitar. Despite the set being relatively short, each track was performed with enthusiasm and intensity from Sinead and her two band members –Julian Hansen on guitar and Oscar Robertson on drums. The tracks sound excellent on record, but their live versions were even more impactful, as Sinead delivered lengthy lines of poetry without a second thought, and her band thrashed their instruments, creating a totally immersive atmosphere.

Sinead and her band debuted a few new tracks, including the stand-out song of the whole performance, entitled Like Culture, which O’Brien told us often gets called Dance! by fans. This instructive line is sung before a heavy drum beat thumps seismically through the crowd with funky guitars to back. This track gave a very promising look into the sonic direction O’Brien’s music will take. The set ended with her Speedy Wunderground single Taking On Time, which was the perfect closer to a set that mixed popular singles with spellbinding new tracks.

After the performance, O’Brien moved straight to the merch stand to sell her own t-shirts, tote bags, and pins whilst chatting with excited crowd members. She had an incredibly warm and inviting energy, leading my friends and I to chat for her for a while, as she explained to us the importance of making her merch ethically. She stated that she loves performing in intimate venues where the audience can come very close to the stage and asked us what it’s like to watch someone in such a close proximity, (mid-way through the gig she had asked everyone to come closer). Of course, standing so close is intense and intimate, but also the best way to experience the poetic genius of Sinead O’Brien live.

Fontaines D.C. – O2 Academy Leeds – 23/10/21 Live Review

Photo by Aimee Ferrier

Tightly packed into Leeds’ O2 Academy was a sold out crowd excited to see the biggest Irish band to have emerged over recent years, Fontaines D.C. After releasing their second album A Hero’s Death last year, this tour has given them a chance to perform it with the normality of touring pre-pandemic.

Confidently striding on stage, the band tossed roses into the eager crowd, before energetic drumbeats sounded in, and the band performed their second album’s titular track. I had not seen the band since January 2020, before we had any idea that gigs would be off the cards for a long while. Straight away, I could sense that a maturity and confidence had grown in the band since then, with lead singer Grian Chatten interacting with the crowd by waving at audience members on the balcony, and even tossing a piece of his tambourine into the front of the crowd.

The five piece alternated between playing tracks from A Hero’s Death and debut album Dogrel, however they orientated the set towards the latter, playing all but two of its eleven tracks. This might be due to the mellow slant of their sophomore album, leaving many of the tracks unsuitable for a high octane gig when played alongside the energetic tracks of Dogrel.

My personal highlight was “Too Real”, the anticipatory build up exploding into whirring guitars and an enthusiastic crowd to match. This segued straight into “Big”, another fan favourite – short but incredibly sweet. The anthemic choruses of most of their tracks allowed the audience to fully involve themselves in the splendour that Fontaines D.C. created.

The band were perfectly able to blend the more brooding, dulcet tones of certain tracks with their raucous, more explosive songs. “The Lotts” bridged the gap between the darker sounding “I Don’t Belong” and the rowdier “Living In America”. They proved themselves masters of curating the perfect setlist – the time seemed to fly by as the band never provided a dull moment.

Advertisements
Photo by Aimee Ferrier

As “Boys In The Better Land” played with intensity and excitement evident in the band and crowd alike, I knew the gig was drawing to a close -however the absence of some of their biggest singles indicated an encore was still to come. The boys walked off stage, only to come back a few moments later for “Roy’s Tune”, the perfect moment to catch a breath before jumping into “Liberty Belle”, which had every member of the crowd holding out their arms and chanting the words along with Chatten.

Fontaines D.C. were able to sell out a venue with a 2,300 capacity and showed no struggle in projecting their musicality to every member of the crowd. With the strength of their musical outputs and speed in which they are able to do so, in no time at all I suspect they’ll be headlining bigger venues very soon.

Advertisements

Black Country, New Road – Live At Queen Elizabeth Hall 6/3/21 Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Photo by Mark Allen

For a band revered for their live prowess, gathering acclaim for their explosive and vibrant shows, it’s always a shame that they aren’t currently able to demonstrate this to an in house audience. One of their regular hold-stead’s is The Windmill in Brixton where the band have on many occasions crossed paths with fellow contemporary post-punk/experimental rock outfit Black Midi, forming the supergroup Black Midi, New Road. But on this occasion the band are at a venue as grand as the heights their music reaches.

The band opened with a new, as of so far, live track “Mark’s Theme”, a gentle croon in led by saxophonist Lewis Evans; settling everyone in before the explosion of the rest of the show. They took their time to fully prepare themselves and set into motion playing debut album For The First Time in full. From the moment that drummer Charlie Wayne bashed out the opening beats of “Opus” with even more intensity than the album, you knew this was going to be something special.

The energy that they brought to the stage was simultaneously chaotic and controlled. As lead singer Isaac Wood sought to reek as much havoc as he could with flailing guitar lines and on the opening part of “Science Fair” the rest of the band stayed comfortably in place, waiting for him to land back down. As the distorted guitars got louder and the saxophone lines from Evans got more frantic you could feel every ounce of the bands energy being put into these songs. On the album Wood’s erratic vocals are one of the major driving points of the turbulent nature of the stories that he tells, whether its the wave of empowerment that he gains from simply wearing sunglasses, or wishing he’d never written letters to a past lover, the ferocity is encapsulating. And here he somehow turns this up to 11. Perhaps helped by the fact you can see the despair on his face, but you can feel every woe-some musing cascade from him as if he were your inner psyche.

One thing that you realise when watching the band is how much these songs sound like the studio recordings. Of course that will have been backed up by the sound system going through the same speakers that people at home listen to the album on. But this only demonstrates how in sync and controlled the band really are when playing these songs. Many of which have been around for a few years now, but they still feel as fresh and alive as ever. For many people watching this might be the first performance of the band they’ve seen; it certainly won’t be the last.

An aspect of the band that has been alluring is the level of, or lack of, publicity they give to themselves as individuals, preferring to be recognised as a collective in its whole form rather than a group of individuals. And their stage set up matches that perfectly. Wood is tucked away in the left corner, seemingly to sing at the rest of the band as Evans takes centre stage with saxophone in hand. Each other member equally spaced to give them enough room to shine whilst locking into the bigger picture. Their stage design also kept in theme with this anonymity as well as the album design. A background slideshow of various stock images of people, landscapes and animals all drew the focus onto the music, rather than the imagery.

At one point the select few in the audience stood up, which could be assumed would be for applause. But the actual reason was something much great. The camera’s panned round and every member was holding a microphone, to which they all joined together and sang together as a huge chorus. Adding backing vocals on the tender “Track X”, the dooming cathartic climax of “Opus” and most impressively they gave live staple “Basketball Shoes” a new feeling of explosive grandeur. This joint band/ audience sound only makes you wish to see the band live even more, just to feel the intensity they can create by bringing people together.

This was an incredible showcase of the bands’ dexterity that allowed the concise nature of the their music to expand within the space. Black Country, New Road may be at the very inception of their career, but there’s already so much to be admired. We sure can’t wait to get to admire that spectacle in person.

Setlist:

Mark’s Theme

Instrumental

Athens, France

Science Fair

Sunglasses

Track X

Opus

Bread Song

Basketball Shoes

Live Review: IDLES – Abbey Road Lock-In Sessions

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What happens when a band revered for their high energy, chaos induced and passionately charged live shows descends on a studio that is one of the pinnacles of the music world? Pure cathartic magic.

It’s not like they’re not used to playing these iconic venues though. Last year headlining Alexandra Palace and selling out it’s 10,000 person capacity within an hour. And have recently announced a run of new UK shows for next year that sees them serve a four night residency at Brixton Academy. The difference here though is though the usual mosh pits and unify anthemic chorus’ were missing. But we know that thanks to the community IDLES have created around their music, everyone watching forgot where they were, at least for a time.

It has certainly been a strange year for live music. With the usual barage of summer festivals taken away for obvious reasons, and venues closed for the foreseeable future. Band have had to find new ways to connect with their fans. IDLES have always been a community band. The AF Gang Facebook group is a homage to the love and admiration that not only the fans have for the band but the band has for the fans.

Over the course of these 3 ‘lock-in’ sessions IDLES delivered one of the most raw and resounding live performances of the livestream age. With the setlists spanning their entire discography, including the four new singles from their forthcoming album Ultra Mono, due on September 25th. “It feels like we’re under the microscope” proclaims lead singer Joe Talbot and like most experiments under a laboratory, it’s fascinating to watch and will even throw up some surprises.

Blasting straight into action with ‘Heel/ Heal’, the sound is frantic, raw and yet consistently focused. It’s been quite some time since the band fully performed together, but they look and feel at home. Feeding off each others desire to get back into what they love, delivering thunderous live performances. And in true rock and roll fashion, Set 1 ended with a guitar smash from Bowen during ‘Rottweieller’. The lyrics do insist to “Smash it, ruin it, destroy the world”

It’s not just the fast popping punk riffs that show off their live prowess though, but some of the darker, moodier moments. The transition from ‘Gram Rock’ to ‘Date Night’ is ominous and boding, as the almost western film soundtrack like riff slowly chugs along. After viewing all these songs thrown together it’s easy to see how much the bands sound has grown over the years. Moving from the bouncing riffs of ‘Rachel Khoo ‘ to the marching beats and highly synthesised guitar riff of new single ‘Grounds’. But

Talbot has always been a passioned singer, he delivers the lines with conviction and intent. You can see what these songs and the messages he puts in them mean to him. Through his gritted teeth the anthems of a revolutionist and forward thinking generation are sung. “The best way to scare a tory is to read and get rich” he instructs on ‘Mother’.

There may not be an audience to react to but they still own the stage, keeping everyones digital eyes fully on them. Guitarist Mark Bowen still prancing about during riff breaks, he’s even suited himself up this time; usual attire is limited to just underwear. Talbot hops on the floor tom to help drummer Jon Beavis during ‘Rottweiler’. And Lee Kiernan, who’s usual approach is to take his guitar playing into the audience, still finds a wall to climb as he’s serenaded by Bowen with a medley of one line covers.

They even had time to throw in some devastatingly brutal but brilliant covers, with the highlight being The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, which I’m sure everyone is aware, but was in fact recorded at Abbey Road studios. A song that’s received its fair share of covers of the years, but none have ever sounded this empowered, haunting and beefed out.

Yes there were a couple of restarts and missed cues, but this just added to the emphasis that this was a show for the fans; it had to sound right. They even brought out the enlarged lyrics sheets at points. “Reminding me what a terrible singer I am” jokes Talbot before they kicked into action on the high paced ‘Mr. Motivator’.

There were also a plethora of dedications on the third set, one to a fan who sadly passed away of cancer and one to “The NHS and all our key workers who’ve kept us afloat, long live open minded, down with tory scum”.

“I miss this so fucking much” proclaimed Talbot during the third set. So do we Joe, so do we.