Star Inn, Backroom, Friday 18th March 2016.
Part of me doesn’t want to review this. I just don’t have the breadth and depth of knowledge and reference points to do the bands justice.
But fuck it. Ignorance – even outright stupidity – doesn’t seem to stop many people from expressing their opinions nowadays, so why let it stop me? It even seems like this society we live in tolerates people expressing “opinions” that are factually and demonstrably incorrect. There are people out there who seem to think that they have a right to express the ‘opinion’ that 2 plus 2 does not equal 4, or that neo-liberalism benefits ordinary people via trickle down economics. Maybe they do (they don’t) but if they do then vulnerable people have the right not to be exposed to such misleading nonsense.
Anyway, am I getting off the point here.
New Cowboy Builders, from Bristol, came on first. Bass, drums, guitar, with the vocals mainly coming from the guitarist, but also the bassist. The bass was pretty funky a lot of the time (a good thing). The drums are all over the place (a good thing), completely negating any danceability the bass gives (not a good thing, but a necessary evil, you can’t have it both ways. This reminds me, I’ve always dreamed of finding a way to combine the space of minimal techno or dub with dense, layered, repetitive guitars, without losing the density of sound or the space created when you have the opposite of a dense sound). The guitars are mainly dirty, fairly simple, heavy riffs. Maybe I’m just weird but one minute I was thinking “how on earth do this band think that there are more than 100 people in the entire world who might dig this challenging noise?” The next I was thinking “this lot should be playing Wembley Stadium with these riffs”. I suspect that it was my former thought that was the most realistic, but if there was any justice in the world New Cowboy Builders would be rocking out at Wembley to the masses who just love really heavy challenging music that you can’t dance to. I fucking loved them!
Grenades, Worthing. I wasn’t really feeling it. Not sure why. On stage, and on their Soundcloud page, they mention their Pixies influence… I buy that, and in some songs its pretty obvious (especially in the vocals). But they are a pretty fucked up version of the Pixies (no bad thing!) but without as good songs (who has apart from Betty Boo obvs?) I’d definitely be more than happy to see them again, and there’s definitely some potential there.
Secret Black Boyfriend. Again, I wasn’t really feeling it. Not sure why. Partly the name. Not sure exactly why they chose the name, but it doesn’t sit easily with me (I’ll do an essay on this if anyone’s interested) and immediately places a barrier betweem me and liking the band. Overall interesting, not bad, lots of potential… but not my thing right now. I’d be more than happy to turn up at a gig and find out they were on the bill, but I wouldn’t go far out of my way specifically to see them.
The Fourth Wall. No, not a band, the Fourth Wall.
I have a theory. New Cowboy Builders were the best band of the night by a mile, mainly because they fucking rock better and harder than the other two. But it was also the fact that they were off home turf, probably barely knew anyone in the venue, that helped them. They got their heads down and played, with little more than the odd (unnecessary and slightly spell-breaking) “thank you” at the end of every song.
Contrast this with Grenades and SBB. These acts had much more banter going on between them and the audience / their mates. Imagine you’re at a house show with the Libertines playing back in the day. The band’s sound, songs, attitude all encourage audience intereaction, maybe participation. The Fourth Wall can come down and the experience for band and audience alike just gets better. But Grenades and SBB are nasty, fucked up, noisy-shit bands, not a fun, fucked up, mates all in it together band. To get the most out of their sound and vibe they need to be seperate, ideally with a bit of an air of mystery. Breaking that Fourth Wall shines light on that mystery, proves that they are not as fucked up as their sound suggests, breaks the spell and makes them harder to appreciate. IMHO.
Yet again I’m gonna say bands can do what they want. And its damn hard not to engage with the audience if its small and the people at the front know you well. And if you engage with your mates its damn hard to do so as if they’re not your mates. But if you do what you want, or what you feel you have to [after all its rude to ignore your mates, and pretentious to pretend you can’t hear what they’re saying] especially if you play nasty, noisy music like these three bands, then you risk neutrals like me thinking you’re a local band playing for your mates for a laugh, not something a bit special on the start of a road to greatness. There’s nothing wrong with being a local band playing for your mates for a laugh, but don’t expect me to buy into what you’re selling if that’s your attitude. Backing up the sound as much as possible with a sense of mystery, danger and otherness can only help people buy into what you’re doing.