Live: Arbour Lights / New Alaska / Mansize – Firefly Worcester, 7/11/13

It’s an arty enough place, Worcester. They have an art festival and everything. But it was always meant to be a little bit shit if you wanted anything edgy or underground. It’s a great place to bring up kids. Loves royalty. Makes sauce. But punk and DIY? Best hit the M5 and head for Bristol. Or Birmingham.

Then, sort of around spring time this year, to this reviewer, anyway – things came out of the leftfield woodwork that were never expected. A world class skatecore band from Japan – JAPAN – played the fricking Firefly – on a Thursday, for THREE QUID. Baby Godzilla – watch out for these guys, people – went apeshit bonkers above that same pub only a few weeks before. A relentless horde of Metalcore, Grind and all sorts of gnarly bands keep playing at a truly charming dive-hole venue up by Shrub Hill (The Bridge) – for FREE. Will Tun and the Wasters are doing a gig at that same venue at the end of this month – for FREE.

Maybe it’s just me. But I had no idea that the supposed home of the displeasingly alliterative “Worcester Woman” – a genuine political pollster term for the key consumerist cosy female reactionary demographic who (supposedly) swept New Labour into power in the 90s – could actually be this cool.

But anyway. Speaking of cool. This was another Surprise Attacks triple bill Thursday. With some serious quality on display.

Local (Worcester) tri-hander Mansize kind of shambled on stage with minimal fanfare, and an almost apologetic wishing of the crowd a happy Thursday. Basically female-fronted and not lacking in brute sonic attack, this was periodically intricate 90’s grunge revival – with a few jagged hooks stuck in for good measure. The vocalist has definitely got a PJ Harvey thing going on (guess the clue is in the bandname) and to me that’s a thing to be loved. There was also a bit of cheeky crossover – the deployment of a rapper in the old school Gunshot vein on one track – something which could easily have gone wrong. It basically didn’t. Which is a hell of a thing to pull off. I guess this entire band – and the MC – were at best being potty-trained when the lost 90’s gem the Judgement Night Soundtrack compilation was released; featuring as it did a collaboration between Mudhoney and Sir Mix-a-lot (and many others in the same vein… if in doubt, google). But this little number, played live above a pub in Worcester, could have sat as track six on this very album quite comfortably. Genuinely.

Representing for Stourbridge, New Alaska were a much simpler proposition. Clean, fresh, a touch of neo-pub rock, and medically impossible to dislike… these guys were tight. Very tight. They visibly love what they do, and the love was downright infectious. There’s more subtlety and diversity on their studio material – shades of Post-Hardcore and even a bit of mathcore unless my ears deceive me – but live, this was just shitnails, joyous speed punk. More of the same please, gents. You really can come again.

And finally, boasting more effects pedals per square foot than I have ever seen in my life, and some seriously boutique kit… the symphonic majesty of Arbour Lights. Fronted by a Wunderkind remiscent of a teenage Beck, only more laid back and less off his freaky nut, on Bass – this was instrumental noise right out of the top drawer. To be specific, out of the top drawer of a bespoke designed six-drawer cabinet, hand-made by a master craftsman in a workshop, probably somewhere in the Cotswolds. Said Wunderkind held his place centre stage, working his effortless craft without a single word, for the whole set. This guy had so much neck and brass he even deployed a bow to his four string, Jimi-goddam-Page style (only Jimi Page was a guitarist, yeah I know) – while the big guy on rhythm guitar went right off to his music. The whole performance was completely wordless – but when you are this good at what you do with the equipment, vocals are pretty much superfluous. Unless, say, they were to summon up the spirit of Richard Burton to recite some Dylan Thomas poetry in an quiet patch, a la War of the Worlds, or something. That would have gone nicely. Awesome.

And in sum, then, this evening was not something you’d associate with anodyne archetypal homeland of Worcester Woman. Not at all.

And so, Power to the fucking Woo. As they say.

Live: Crucial Section/Geriatric Unit/King of Pigs, The Firefly Worcester, 25/9/13

Old. It’s the new young (some say). Like some deranged sequel to the 80’s classic Cocoon, this collective paroxysm of undimmed rage from a couple of bands who really should know better by now was something to behold. And that was just the undercard… The main event (Crucial Section) had travelled halfway around the globe to play above this pub in Worcestershire. And deserve their own special attention. More on that later.

King of Pigs are as simple and as direct a proposition as their name implies. “We’ve got three songs left, so reckon that’ll be about five minutes” says the vocalist as the set claw-hammered towards a close. And that’s about the length of it – fast, nuts-tight gobbets of saw-edged noise that left nothing at the door. Get in, do the thing, get out. Having just got back from playing across Europe with some truly horrific Croatian Hard / Grind core outfits, this was probably a quiet day at the office for these boys. But a gig’s a gig – and they played hard.

Geriatric Unit have a combined age greater than the occupants of a GP’s waiting room on a wet Thursday morning. But the intensity of their collective and individual existential fury belies the fact that they have been plying this trade in various bands – not least Heresy and X-Rays – for well over quarter of a century. “Fookin hell…” goaded their grizzled front guy after the second track or so, “back in the day we’d be four bars in and people would be going fookin mental…” This challenge was naturally enthusiastically taken up. Surprising it is how much heat and bodily fluids a relatively small number of people can generate in a relatively small space.

There was even a bit of politics. Railing in between songs against societal corrosion by social media, rentier capitalist PR and mass delusion – this lot gave out everything you’d kind of want from old school H-core. Remember Napalm Death’s Scum era? Or anything from the good god almighty Dead Kennedys (remember them too, people?) This scene was always about counterculture, thinking for yourself and speaking out – and these boys haven’t forgotten that. Power to your thick, arthritic elbows, gents. Rage on.

And while all this was kicking off, a crew of unassuming and extremely polite Japanese dudes in bandanas and skate wear were quietly limbering up in the background… Crucial Section take this seriously – and purvey some of the finest, sharpest and most spirited skatecore punk you will ever hear. Being of around the right age to be doing this daft sort of thing in the first place, the sheer wall of energy these guys threw out could knock out the power grid in a medium-sized city. There was a whole lot of leaping into mid-air. The lead guitarist repeatedly charged the punters, axe first. The drummer played hard and angry. The line between band and audience pretty much blurred away to nothing, and most people in the room had a bit of a dance. Neither audience nor the band fully understood what was going on – cue flurries of sign language between the band and the promoters on basic things like set start times and the encore. But the music – razor sharp edged, and struck through with an honesty and a poke that makes many current UK bands – young or old – look slovenly and insincere by comparison – blasted clear across any language or cultural barriers… and unified the whole damn room in a sweaty mass of rough love.

Or something. Domo Arigato, lads. I hope you smashed Bristol as thoroughly as you did this one.

Live: Baby Godzilla/The Callout/Forever Grace, The Firefly Worcester, 5/9/13

Well then. Three bands. Quid a band. One of these bands currently ripping it right up in the music press as I type this. A school night fest of crunk, melodic punk and shittery above a pub in the Midlands. Let us begin.

Youth. It’s a wonderful thing to behold. The wilful disregard of risk and convention. The unassailable confidence. The unfettered exhuberance. With an apparent average age of about fourteen Worcester’s very own Forever Grace have youth spraying wildly out of every orifice. They also sound a lot like Slayer circa Reign in Blood. However, they both clearly know this – and do not give a single wet little shit. Cranking out a brand of filthy metallic hardcore that is getting rather big right now, this was an impressively lean and pokey mix of post-Frank Carter Gallows, Pariso and some of that Scandinavian stuff that does the rounds. All this delivered by five edgier versions of the geek who won X Factor last year. Tattoos, skinny jeans, quiffs – these boys looked the part. And given the spark in the eye and the spring in their step as they nailed through their set, they certainly don’t lack for self-belief or ambition. Congested market right now lads – but power to your elbow.

This band also brought their crew. At times reminiscent of some kind of demented 70s disco dance off gone wrong – or a pack of drunken tramps rabidly fighting with the invisible man – their fanboys took it in turns to enthusiastically flail and romp around in the general area between the drum kit and the audience with real vim and vigour. The band joined in too. This was spectator moshing at its best. Ultimately this is what this kind of music is all about, the kids having their moment and getting stuff out of their system – and almost bought a tear to the eye. You windmill on boys. Just mind you don’t smack the civilians.

Band two. The Callout. Melodic punk edging right into emo – soaring harmonic vocals, emotional content and some sweet hooks. I understand that this three-piece have paid their dues, playing as a unit for some years – and it shows. With heavy shades of Hot Water Music and The Gaslight Anthem, the sound was crisp and style distinctly American. There was even a note perfect cover of what I think was a 5ive song – in the vein of the kitsch cover of Rush Hour by Joyrider all those years ago – which they basically pulled off.  A lot of this was engaging stuff – but did drift a little now and again. As it happened this was probably a good thing for all involved – a lull before the storm – given what followed.

Band three. Baby Godzilla. On the back of airplay on the niche shows on national radio, and playing their first date on a national tour schedule that will see them supporting Black Spiders and Hawk Eyes, this was expected to be good. What it was – and I use this after very careful consideration – was utter and complete fucking chaos.

Musically, Baby Godzilla are a kind of quirky cross between the Dillinger Escape Plan and the Computers. Three hundred mile an hour skinny-jeaned rock and roll punk interspersed with freaky time signature noodlery – and a whole lotta screaming. Not that this particularly comes across live – there was the occasional recognisable tune and there was a part where they all put their instruments down and walked around rhythmically shouting. But catchy harmonies aren’t really what this band are about.  This was about sonic assault. It wasn’t about the crowd moshing either. Further windmilling by Forever Grace’s mutant urban dance crew was rapidly shut down as these sweaty lunatics from Nottingham basically turned the tables and invaded the crowd.

Two songs in and there were beardy boys in vests causing mayhem at the back of the room: rearranging and clambering all over the furniture, getting nose to nose with the punters – and generally freaking out like chimpanzees having a breakdown. All to the backdrop of an ungodly, feral noise. There were cables tangled in the light fittings. There was a point when one of them almost fell out the window. There was someone flat out on the bar wailing like a banshee. The Callout guys – perhaps wisely – hid out on the balcony. Guitars were handed to random people to fiddle with or played with the teeth or dry humped against the wall (you got the full Hendrix, people). If as is likely they get signed to a major label – they’ve just released a single on Venn Records, the rebooted Gallows’ current vehicle – then that major label better be prepared to pay for new guitars every show. You get the distinct impression that the only thing stopping this lot torching or smashing theirs into the amps was the cost.

And so. Their main set ended with someone rolling around the middle of the floor in a puddle of sweat, sobbing; the encore ended with the bassist wildly smacking the drums like my two year old daughter, having first dragged the kit right in amongst the audience – with the lad with the microphone screaming himself hoarse about whores.

You saw it here first.

Fucking mental.

Live: Empire/Planecrasher/Layers – The Firefly, Worcester, 1/8/13

So. A baking hot school night in a provincial city in middle England. Three stories up above a side street and behind a sprawling new Asda… we have some bands. Three sweaty examples of the best the Midlands scene has to offer. And at £3 in – that’s a whole quid a band -seriously, what’s not to love?

First up – Empire. Billed as Faith No More does hardcore, these boys were bright as you like. A simple but highly effective riff-heavy sound of drums, bass and lead providing a rock solid platform for the hugely, hugely impressive vocal range of their charismatic and snake-hipped front man. And yep, this boy has a genuine touch of a young Mike Patton in manner and delivery. These guys are maybe what you might call post-emo: crystal clear vocals, but with a scuzzier feel to their melodic sound than the Alkaline Trio-s of this world. For sake of comparison, there isn’t quite the nails-hard edge here that you find, say, in Mr P’s works peri or post Faith No More – and no down low screaming from the legendary crouch… But then, who wants to rehash the trademark stage antics of a man who when given his own free artistic rein does songs about sex with food (Mr Bungle – google it, people). In all, Empire work up a really interesting sound, with stacks of potential – and the vocalist in particular deserves more superlatives than I can give him here. A couple of their tracks had a groove that kind of got right down into your pelvis, and I believe you can find the video to one of these – ‘Blackheart’ – on that facetube right now. Go see it and give these good people your support.

Now. Planecrasher. Sounding initially like a wall of ultra-heavy stoner, but with way more spark and crank than than this moniker implies – this was utterly engaging and unashamed carnage. Loud as sweet merry fuck, with said wall of noise decorated with twiddly guitar detailing straight out of Gregg Ginn’s SCT playbook and pure filth basslines straight out of Trouser Minnow-era Rapeman – Hereford’s Planecrasher are aptly named. This was weapons-grade chugging that could take out a fucking airbus. These guys obviously know their hardcore history (the influences of the band were plain to see from the bassist’s Shellac T-shirt, which was apparently gifted by the very hand of the speccy fruitcake Albini himself) – and this was a fair joyous fusion of Big Black, Iron Monkey, Black Flag and Kyuss. Think a waaay gnarlier QOTSA and you won’t be far off the mark. However. Josh Homme and friends are damp as a wet Christmas live – not so these fellows. The towering brute on lead guitar and vocals was obviously the alpha monkey of the group, but the ball of dreddlocks on the four string was pretty much the star of the show, totally going off to his dirty, dirty music. Point of note is that they even drove the uber-geek front man from Fights and Fires away from the front of the stage, eventually. It was either the aural onslaught, or he needed a pee. Maybe the latter.

A few words about the drummer, too. Every stick man should be slightly off his nut. Goes with the job description. And the nuttier they are the harder they play. And in my book, he (or she) can never play too hard. And the wiry little Iggy-a-like in this band played like he hated that shaky kit more than the man who had just killed his cat. Brutal.

Last on – Layers. These cheeky chappies really look the part. A very modern, good-looking bunch of lads – including the mega-bearded chrome dome in the Billy Talent T-shirt on lead, who had a style and stage presence evident in the face of tech adversity he had to gamely deal with. Bouncy and energetic as hell and no shortage of poke – if they’d been able to get into their stride fully this band would probably have taken the roof off. The pool of hip kids they had clustered around the stage were visibly bursting to hear them play, and they coped with the tech difficulties that interrupted the set very well indeed – launching right back into it with vigour and professionalism once the various guitar issues got sorted. Their sound is decidedly “now” – taking influences from hardcore and pop punk, even some pure metal – and mixing it freely with no mind to genre or orthodoxy – with soul and R&B. Plan B meets Let Live? That’d actually be a disservice – mainly because the geezer that helped butcher the Sweeney remake hasn’t got an ounce of the spunky freshness of the vocalist in this outfit – and nowhere near his soaring, gospel-quality delivery. You’ll make good pros gentlemen, if all the internet whispers about you come to fruition. Ones to watch indeed.

And finally… just a shout out to the people behind these gigs too. Every town dreams of having its own scene. Well, any town with self-awareness and personality. And through the efforts of a local crew of promoters (Surprise Attacks) there may, just may, be the first sparks of one starting here. With things apparently mobilising behind the scenes, a stable of bands representing for the local area (Fights and Fires and Thirty Six Strategies not least), and some fairly awesome gigs – Crucial Section, Baby Godzilla, HDQ – booked at this same venue (the Firefly) over the Autumn, here’s hoping that the Wu really is on the rise. Who knows. Or dares to dream.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Shout out – Surprise Attacks in Worcester tomorrow!

Surprise Attacks – Fine purveyors of Punk and Noise to the Big Bad Wu since May 2013 – are pleased to bring you the third of sonic excellence this Thursday, 1st August at the Firefly, Lowesmoor, Worcester… All the details on Facebook.

An epic trio of new bands spanning the length of the Midlands.
LAYERS bring their brand of soulful, emo-influenced rockin’ hardcore down the M5 from Brum, ahead of their debut EP release and on the back of much positive press attention for their energetic live shows. Ay it!
PLANECRASHER bring their Black Flag/Hives meets Albini-influenced riffage over the border from Herefordshire. Wear ear plugs.
EMPIRE (UK) head the other direction up the M5 from Chelters with a wild live show like Faith No More gone hardcore. Tidy!

The usual recession busting £3 entry – and parking’s universally free after 8 too.

Looking further ahead, acts already confirmed include:
Sept 5th – Baby Godzilla (Nottingham) / The Callout (Redditch) / TBC
Sept 25th – Crucial Section (Japan) / Geriatric Unit (Ex Heresy) / King Of Pigs
The Crucial Section gig alone is enough to make any discerning hardcore fan wet themselves with anticipation. Come join us.