Review: A Wilhelm Scream at The Borderline, London (March 15, 2014)

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Some gig reviews get written on the bus home. Some are written in an orderly way, the following morning with a nice pot of the black stuff, with a marshalling of the facts, a prosaic and faithful transcription of the show. Some are hurriedly scribed on the backs of hands before being finished, in haste, at 4am. But all are written – whether kindly or unkindly – from a place of arousal, with opinions being teased or tempted out, completed when one has emptied the mind of all it was provoked to say. That, amongst other truths, was utterly detonated by A Wilhelm Scream at the Borderline on Saturday night. Sitting down to write this almost 48 hours after the show, I am hampered by the total inability to feel – my sensibilities brutally, gloriously, majestically exploded. It is impossible to begin to get this show, to get near it, to enter its post code. The cliché is (almost) warranted: there are no words.

The Borderline is a scraggly place. A dusty, red curtain hangs behind the stage, framing the action like a poor school play. The sound is a little cruel. From anywhere other than five yards back, plum centre, it can sound a bit like a fart in a packet of Maltesers. But Gnarwolves, the featured support, fire gamely through, sweeping all away in the melody of the brilliant Community, Stability, Identity like a frenzied Menzingers, a proto-anthemic Parquet Courts.

No words, indeed. Let’s have a go. It’s owed. Opening with the tanking duo of Boat Builders and The Kids Can Eat a Bag of Dicks, the former from the headliners’ new album Partycrasher (No Idea, 2014), it’s clear we are all about to get hurt. The heat is incredible – sticky, aching heat through which A Wilhelm Scream have to carve rather than play. And how they play. Trevor Reilly and Mike Supina (the newest member of the band, having joined in 2008 after Chris Levesque, who captured some of the supreme work on Ruiner (Nitro, 2005), departed) swap frenetic glances, looks of delight, madness, endeavour, as they share orchestral fretwork and grinding palm muting, this kind of totalising guitar romance. A Dave Murray and Adrian Smith for punk rock.

Is this punk? Who knows. It’s fast. A 19-song set is kicked into the throat in just about 45 minutes. Their sound has all the jangling, gothic ephemera of Iron Maiden but all the snotty muscularity of Pennywise or Dead Kennedys. Their set is beguiling. They take liberal fistfuls of material from past albums, like The Soft Sell, I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz, 5 to 9 (the latter stitched together fiercely), with Partycrasher’s highlights like The Last Laugh and Born a Wise Man. It is uncompromisingly urgent.

Breaks are minuscule, to be taken only so as to take fluids and not die. And then it is on, forward, to something unreal. Brian Robinson is frightening all on his own, bass-playing of such a remarkable quality, so high a top drawer that most, including myself, just gaze at his fingering with eye seared open, almost forgetting to blink. (Speaking of fingering, overheard at the bar: “I saw Rage Against The Machine at Wembley Arena and I got fingered.”) Skid Rock displays all his powers, thundering along the fretboard, matched, pound for pound, by Nicholas Pasquale Angelini’s acerbic beats, his charging kick pedal. Nuno Pereira jumps buoyantly, grinning like an eight-year-old. Peak up, vest top, flinging himself like Pepe Reina, he looks thrilled to be fronting such a breathtaking unit, as we all are to be there witnessing it. But Pereira has chops of his own, growling like Chuck Ragan or Mike Ness, a quick-lipped Eddie Vedder. “Tie me up to the radiator! Trust the sweat, not the face it’s on!”

The technicality at this speed is simply something beyond what other punk bands can do. And it has long been known. A Wilhelm Scream, the band’s band. The band bands wanted to tour with, the one they listed as inspiration. But now, nearly ten years in, the Borderline caught the fusion of skill and deft songwriting that their recorded work had so often captured so sweetly: songs so catchy they seem to vacuum the air from the room. Come tomorrow night to Kingston, Pereira said, when it will really get “hot and nasty”. But this room is baking enough. Punters fly into each other, leap from the stage and hang upside down from the lighting rig. The King is Dead is followed by an encore of Hike and The Rip and we tread out, exhausted.

And so to words. They come easily to Pereira whose barked aggressions fire into the Charing Cross Road like rockets but, then, unfathomable flair comes easily to this band. It is left to the reviewer, when words consistently fail to do justice, to feel. And that feeling, that emotion when you watch a band so tight, so energetic, so mesmeric that you feel your eyes tingle and the back of your neck burn white with anticipation, with the sense that time might have just fallen off its track, that feeling when you see such a ferocious statement of authority, when a gulf in punk rock might just have been ripped open, when you encounter what might be the best hardcore band since Black Flag, that feeling – if we can find but one word – is awe.

★★★★★

Reviewed for Punktastic

Gig review: Birds In Flight @ O2 Academy 2, Islington, 20/01/2012

(This is a review for New Reviews, also available here: http://www.new-reviews.co.uk/?p=5473)

Southampton band Birds In Flight have to eat a bit of a broken glass sandwich tonight. Opening an unsigned showcase at 6:30pm is rarely exciting let alone at the joyless O2 Academy 2, Islington. (A can of Carlsberg Export is £4.40. Chewing gum is confiscated at the door.) But kicking off the night with ‘Wings’, they chug away with whoas and harmonies so wide they belie the venue’s narrow floor; next, straight into ‘Heroes’, its terrific disco middle section – a fine opening pair, a swift call to arms.

The immediacy of their sound is remarkable. There is an almost glib simplicity. One guitar, one vocal, a giant drum line. In fact, drummer Glenn Hampson is a revelation, the sheer volume of his snare strikes is aurally gutting, thrashing himself about, something akin to Chad Smith in Bon Jovi. Theo McDonald’s throbbing bass and sharp showmanship perfectly counters Luke Allen’s cautious guitar, his chunky palm mutes and seamless right hand. ‘Speak Up’ and ‘Time’ are tougher, smarter and more punishing than their studio versions on EP A Hand To Hold (2011), a nod to Paramore and Incubus.

Their sound is obvious but lean, and cutely nonchalant, like a Hemingway novel. There is no fat here, no soggy leftovers. A few times, this unfussiness is too clear. There is a tendency with some songs to follow a template: verse, chorus, repeat, middle breakdown, chorus – but this is raw output, pure charge. They are brutally casual – their persona manifestly embodied by vocalist Jess Gibbons. She is funny, a little awkward, shy, but her voice is staggering, deeply frightening. Not one bum note, not one wonky creak or croak: she is power, animated. It is incredible stuff. Her Joni Mitchell, middle-distance stare breathes guts into too-green lyrics. Tonight they soar, her voice colossal.

By the time we reach flagship track ‘Biggest Mistake’, the crowd are soundly beaten. This is a demon tune. The chorus is flat-out, undiminished rock vim, the melody so furiously catchy that there is not a head unbanged or foot untapped anywhere in the room. Gibbons is liberal and flirtatious with her pauses, gluing her vocal line to Hampson’s drums, letting the chorus smother you. There is a comfort here that few band members have with each other. A little more intrigue, a few more shrewd songs to show off their musicianship, a bigger stage, a lucky break – and they could be something.

★★★★

Gig review: Feeder @ KOKO, 31/01/12

(This is a review for BBM Magazine, also available here: http://www.bbmlive.com/music-news/gig-review-feeder-at-koko-london-31st-jan.html)

Feeder might be the band that rock and roll forgot. Surpassed by their countrymen and contemporaries like Coldplay and Stereophonics, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose have fallen, somewhat, between the cracks in history’s floorboards, casually dropped down the back of her sofa, never really absorbed into the post-Britpop indie scene, nor the early-00s mainstream metal resurgence. And tonight’s crowd reflects this. A smorgasbord of faces and ages – 14 to 65, at a guess – make up all 5 tiers of KOKO’s gorgeous theatre. Fans of a band whose output spans twenty one years, there are the awkwardly dancing middle-aged, the hard-faced thirty-somethings, the swooning teens. A farrago, an apathy.

The show begins with gentle clapping more akin to golf tournament applause then frenzied exultation. T-shirted to hell they may be, but this crowd does not declare its love of Feeder with noise. Frontman Grant Nicholas takes to the stage alone, opening, idiosyncratically, with ‘Children of the Sun’, the final track of new album Generation Freakshow (Big Teeth) which is due out in April. Cordially received, he is joined by bassist Taka Hirose, now the only other constituent member of Feeder, and collaborator/session drummer Damon Wilson. Tearing through ‘This Town’ and ‘Renegades’ without so much as a breath of interaction with the audience, Nicholas and Hirose struggle to get KOKO’s feet moving. TV marketing joyride ‘Feeling The Moment’ lifts the balconies clean off the walls with cacophonies of ‘wooohhhh’. But ‘Sunrise’, despite sounding eerily like The Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind?’, is a disappointment. (At this point, about ten minutes of review material was lost to knee-wobbling nausea as the man in front of me shoved his hand down the front of his lady friend’s trousers. Sorry for going a bit gonzo. But you didn’t have to see it, did you?)

Then we get going. The chords that open ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’ are beautiful, filling the theatre, that echo and reverb which is so much a part of Feeder’s live sound now paying off. The chorus is enormous, the sing-along seismic. Nicholas strums the opening chords of ‘Buck Rogers’ and stops. “We’re not playing that tonight,” he jokes, to boos and panto hisses. “It’s that fucking Lucozade ad, they ripped us off” – before the band burst in and the players and lemons get the floor bouncing. ‘Idaho’ and ‘Generation Freakshow’ hint at a new album with all the hooks and cute swagger of Echo Park (Echo, 2001), the fuzzy, frisky rock of Silent Cry (Echo, 2008). A re-appraisal of Feeder rather than a revolution.

It’s hard to see what Feeder do differently. Like the Foo Fighters, or Muse, one never has a craving to escape deeply into them, often merely to paddle. On the basis of tonight’s showcase, there is little that is profound about their new material. But encore tracks ‘High’ and the ever-tremendous ‘Just A Day’ remind everyone here that however loosely new skin may fit for the seasoned or casual fan of the Big Hits, multiple platinum-selling albums are rarely the accidents of history, and these are great songs, no matter how much history – from tonight’s evidence – has left Feeder behind.

★★★