Andrew McMahon – The Glee Club Birmingham, 20/5/13

Although it’s safe to say that Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin were two of the projects that held my hand and dragged me up through my adolescence, I had never gotten the opportunity to catch either of those bands live. However, this spring, Andrew McMahon decided to tour under his own name, rather than attach it to one of his bands. When I say that this was a solo tour, that’s exactly what it was – just Andrew and his piano, something that he’d never done before.

First up though were Fort Hope (4/5). Having risen from the ashes of My Passion earlier this year, the Glee Club was treated to a stripped down set by Jon Gaskin and Ande D’Mello. In Fort Hope, Gaskin has taken the lead vocal slot rather than just being in the background. The result is astonishing. Gaskin displayed an impressive vocal range (with particular highlights in their cover of the classic Somebody To Love), instilled with a power and confidence that keeps growing and growing, and with D’Mello, transformed Fort Hope’s alt-rock anthems into a beautifully delicate acoustic offering smattered with piano. It was a great set, and I eagerly await seeing the full works.

Arguably, the Glee Club wasn’t necessarily the appropriate venue for Andrew McMahon (5/5). With his easy, conversational style and fairly static positioning on a small stage, we would have been better off in a jazz club, with cosy seats and candles on the table, whiskies (or coffee, for the straight edge contingency) in hand. I can imagine that in the Union Chapel in London, where McMahon played later in the week, the atmosphere would have been incredible. Even so, stood in a crowded room and barely able to see a stage, I closed my eyes and let the music just take hold of me, and it was perfect. Despite his trepidation at playing completely solo, McMahon performed admirably. He’s a talented pianist and a talented singer, quite obviously, but the way in which he transformed such well known songs like Punk Rock Princess which are accented with piano rather than driven by them, was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Mindful of his rich back catalogue, McMahon only played a couple of songs from his new EP, The Pop Underground, and concentrated on playing a ‘best of’ list to a room full of devoted fans. Old favourites like I Woke Up In A Car and Dark Blue popped up as well as more obscure gems like Me And The Moon and the beautiful Konstantin, almost reducing me to tears. I couldn’t have dreamed a better set list. McMahon himself is totally charming and has a rapport with the crowd that many performers can only dream of, cracking jokes and telling stories about the songs that he was playing as if we were more than just an audience – more like we were friends. If you want to feel inspired, like you’re part of something bigger, or if you just want to hear some beautiful music, you might want to check out Andrew McMahon next time he comes to town.

Mallory Knox – Cathouse, Glasgow, 23/4/13

Taken by Lisa Matthews

My preparation for this gig was less than adequate. I’d been up all night several nights beforehand frantically typing uni coursework and had completely forgotten that my cousin invited me to it, and had to drive 50 miles from Edinburgh to Glasgow running on energy juice to make it! But we made it in time, and commencing proceedings were Evarose (4/5), a four-piece all-female rock/pop outfit from Oxfordshire. Now I know the cliché with any band with a female member in it these days is to instantly compare them with Paramore, but these girls definitely have a similar vibe. Punchy, anthemic pop-punk is the score, and they don’t hold back at all on stage – at one point bassist Connie Raitt was so into it that she nearly clobbered singer Danikka Webber in the face. A special mention as well for the steely-eyed determination not to acknowledge the drunken heckle from a punter at the back of the room which had something to do with an ‘embarrassing boner’ – make of that what you will, but I wouldn’t mess with this quartet. BASS TO THE FACE OOOOOH – keep an eye oot.

Next up, Natives (3/5), whose set positively flew by. Four lads from Hampshire who clearly eat their porridge each morning dealt out a further foray into pop-punk but seemed to focus more on crowd participation – in a 35 minute set they only managed to fit in 4 songs, though this may have been somewhat due to the dance-off which broke out halfway through where anyone with moves slick enough to impress lead singer Jim Thomas cab win a photograph of the crowd doing the band’s apparent signature symbol ‘The Point’. A decent set but nothing terribly exciting.

Natives certainly got the crowd whipped into a frenzy for Mallory Knox (4/5) whose gig this is after all. Currently promoting full-length release Signals and buzzing from being announced as one of the main stage acts for Reading and Leeds this year, the quintet makes the tiny Cathouse stage seem more crowded than the room they’re playing to. This audience is as captivated by the bands newer, more radio-oriented tunes as by their older stuff; the room positively erupts at the mere mention of mellow ballad ‘1949’ from Signals, proving this is a group who can do heavy, moshable pop-punk alongside less pacey works, all the while pushing their audience’s buttons. A cracking display, and many happy returns to guitarist Joe Savins who celebrated his birthday onstage!

Dead Swans [farewell show] – Relentless Garage, London, 30/3/13

Despite not registering as a ‘cool’ band amongst some of the hardcore scene’s more picky and trendy crew for a few years now, it’s a fitting testimony to the band’s impact on UK hardcore that Dead Swans play out their last performance in front of a sold out crowd in probably the largest venue the band has ever headlined. A refreshingly varied bill of eight bands gives the show a festival atmosphere as the cream of the UK underground bids farewell to one of the most passionate, uncompromising and intense acts on the hardcore circuit.

Unfortunately I missed Strange Places and Departures but the latter of the two deserves upmost recognition for undertaking a monstrous seven hour journey to play for a mere fifteen minutes. Dedication indeed.

Honour Among Thieves, previously defunct, have picked up their instruments once again at Dead Swans’ behest. Well aware that a great swathe of the heads in the room are unfamiliar with any aspect of the band, the vocalist takes a confrontational approach in the hope of provoking some kind of response. Placing himself in the midst of the crowd, the response is gradual, but by the end of a set of rather straight-forward speedy hardcore, said vocalist is being jumped on by an eager gaggle who seem to know some of the words. A success for a band who clearly imagined they were going to play to a sea of blank faces and static figures.

Holding up the banner for carefree party jams is Gnarwolves who are going from strength to strength as of late. Stage divers, taking advantage of the lack of barrier and overbearing security, immediately set themselves upon the overwhelmingly young audience who press themselves against the stage. The kids in the know regurgitate every single word to breakneck melodic punk tunes such as ‘History Is Bunk’ as well as the softer and potentially lip quivering ‘Community, Stability,Identity’. Although they still maintain their ragged charm, the Brighton trio are a much more solid live entity thanks to their unrelenting touring schedule. The group surely won over some of the crusties at the back of the room, if not for their engaging performance, than for their much applauded quips at Don Brocco (who are cunts apparently, who knew!?). Gnarwolves debut album is awaited with eager ears.

Spitting in the face of any essence of monotony are Landscapes, who have done away with hardcore’s limitations and much notion of any distinct ‘fast’ or ‘mosh’ parts to actually create fucking great songs that are heavily impassioned and have obviously been painstakingly arranged. Sticking entirely to their much lauded debut Life Gone Wrong, the band incites a fervent response as many at the front seem to have taken it upon themselves to burn every word screamed by the emotionally pained vocalist onto their brains. Relying more on poignancy rather than sheer brutality, tracks such as ‘D.R.E.A.M’ are works of masterfully controlled dynamics that have much of the venue enthralled from start to finish.

Breaking Point have failed to impress me in the past, but despite sticking rigidly to a one-dimensional ‘mosh’ sound, tonight they seem a much more engaging live proposition. The hardcore dance enthusiasts finally take their cue to violently hurl their body parts round the pit to the mosh-ready riffs and lyrics of the vehemently straight edge disposition. Frontman Louis is rabid, confrontational and fresh off the road with his new position in Brutality Will Prevail. He repeatedly urges the crowd to “get ignorant”, a command to which they respond with aplomb.

A band with no concept of subtlety, Last Witness are instead more concerned with battering the audience into submission as down-tuned riffs rain down on a now well warmed audience. Coming on stage to the demonic screams of the intro to Slipknot’s Iowa seems perfectly apt way to signal their arrival. Despite hardly being the most intimidating of figures, lead growler Theo commands a brilliantly abrasive and guttural scream which he unleashes unfailingly even as he spends a large portion of the set in mid-air, bouncing non-stop around the stage. The riffs, ingrained with hints of nu-metal, are disgustingly crushing in their unrelenting fury. Oldie ‘Dreamland Welcomes You’ and newie ‘Saccharine’ are blasts of ultra-aggressive metalcore that keeps the pit action frantic whilst closer ‘The Void’ and its groove-laden metalisms end the set on a positively destructive note.

Taking to the stage in a hail of feedback, the scream of “It’s starting” announces the arrival of ‘Thinking Of You’ from Dead Swans‘ only full length, Sleepwalkers, with stage divers launching themselves from the monitors onto the packed front rows. The band only make it halfway through the song before their frontman has hurled himself into the crowd. An inspiring vocalist, Nick throws every morsel of anguish and pain into his vocals and despite becoming increasingly intoxicated throughout the set his acerbic vocal chords never falter. For once, a hardcore show is blessed with a live sound of relative clarity, with Benny’s dazzling drumwork sounding nothing less than monstrous through the forgiving PA and the vocal often distinguishable from the cacophony around it. With most of their songs clocking in at two minutes or less they manage to cover a great swathe of their discography, the cataclysmic ‘Hanging Sun’ from their debut Southern Blue to the breathtakingly aggressive ‘In The Half-light’ from the split with the now massive Architects boys and their well-honed hardcore sound of ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’ from their most recent release Anxiety And Everything Else. Throughout the almost hour long performance every band member experiences the joys and perils of stage-diving, with even sticksman Benny finding a break in the set to jump on some heads. Although the pace of the show falters toward the end, an understandable factor considering the amount of energy thrown into every song, the bands performance is pure passion from start to finish and an inspiring spectacle. Finishing with an encore of ‘Preferring The Worst’, the first song ever penned by the group, rounds off the night in logical fashion. An awe-inspiring performance by a group who obviously still court huge adulation in the UK underground. Dead Swans and much of the crowd are by the end of the set saturated in sweat, mentally drained and physically battered- all the hallmarks of a perfectly executed hardcore show and the best send-off Dead Swans could have asked for. They will be sorely missed.

5 out of 5 high fives!

Emmure – O2 Academy 2, Birmingham, 8/4/13

The Mosh Lives tour wound its way on down to Birmingham once more and a rather large bunch of noisy hardcore bands decided to make a mess in the second city. Nice. Kitteh and I took our earplugs and our tank tops/KISS leotards to our home away from home, the O2 Academy 2, and spent an evening surrounded by enthusiastic teenagers enjoying some beefy breakdowns.
Buried In Verona (2.5/5) started us off. Aussie metalcore with synths meant sexy accents but generic tunes for the most part the other night. While they were full of enthusiasm, the set wasn’t bad, but ultimately forgettable. However, with a line up ever in flux and a wildly differing back catalogue to choose from, it stands to reason that given time and a longer slot, Buried In Verona could have a lot more to offer. Canada’s Obey The Brave (4/5) didn’t skimp on the facial hair or the quality with a set to smash your face in for. Although in their current form, Obey The Brave are relative newcomers, they’re all really deathcore veterans, and Alexandre Erian and co led the Academy crowd to a sweaty and satisfied state with a series of brutal and relentless mosh-heavy anthems. Obey The Brave make no compromises and the end result is a heart pounding experience.

At first, I thought that Attila (3.5/5) were going to suck. The first two songs seemed to be more style over substance as the band paraded around the stage in perfectly chosen outfits and played formulaic songs with highly predictable basslines. But then, something magic happened. Vocalist Chris Fronzak started displaying some ridiculous range and everything began coming to life. The tone and depth of his screams in a live situation is enviable. Deeply enviable. Everything became tons of fun after that, with particular highlights in ‘Party With The Devil’. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Chelsea Grin (2/5). While technically, everything was fine – the band were tight, competent and everything else you’d expect in the more techy end of the genre – their set was just dull. There was no change in tempo or tone throughout, and while they maintained a good rapport with the crowd, no amount of synths or snappy dress sense could save it. The second to last track displayed some promise, but went on for too long and the set as a whole just fell flat.

Ah, but nobody was really there to see any of them anyway. Emmure (4.5/5), the Queens deathcore titans, were at their finest. Frankie Palmeri is equally charming and vicious – one moment, he’s thanking the fans and reminding them to keep safe and in the next, he’s launching into a violent tirade with ‘Solar Flare Homicide’. The band as a whole fit the hardcore dynamic to a tee but with an enthusiasm and power that’s slowly dying out in the genre; at first, they’re imposing, but ultimately ready to mosh as hard as the kids in the pit. As tempting as it is to dive into the pit, it’s also just worth standing back and watching as Emmure do their thing; they’re completely arresting. The set consisted of all the classics, and not as much material from their latest effort, Slave To The Game, as I would have expected; but that left room for all the best stuff from Speaker Of The Dead and Felony anyway. Opening the set with ‘4 Poisons 3 Words’ left Kitteh positively shaking with joy. Believe me when I say, the mosh definitely lives, and definitely will continue to if left in the hands of Emmure.

Radstock Festival 2013 – O2 Academy Liverpool, 30/3/13

On what was a rare sunny day in Liverpool, a brand new indoor music festival called Radstock was launched, seeing 24 bands playing across three stages in two rooms from 1pm to 11pm. With free Monster energy drinks handed out to the queue, 13 year old emo girls olds bouncing off the walls with excitement and slightly creepy older men watching them as they queue for a day long festival of rock, metal and punk; spring officially kicked into life.

The first band on the Big Deal Clothing stage came in the form of Gnarwolves. The set burst into life with a fast punk drumbeat, clean but shouted lyrics and a rumbling bassline, not to mention a few riffs here and there. There were a lot of abrupt changes of pace to fit the punk-esque style, but there were also some more pop-punk moments and even a slower softer song “because it was early in the day”. Apparently it was the earliest a band has played at the venue; whether or not that’s a compliment to the band is another matter entirely, but Gnarwolves delivered a strong set to warm up the assembling crowd.

Next up and first on the larger Monster Energy stage were Natives, injecting energy into the room with their brand of poppy, fist pumping, and sing-along rock. Thriving off crowd participation, Natives brought a thumping rock attitude with the catchy element of pop music. Respect where it’s due, this got the crowd more involved, seeing everybody kneeling down and jumping up for the chorus of the second song, not something you are used to seeing at 2 in the afternoon. A lot of the songs were very similar, in structure and deliverance, but that said, Natives clearly found a song-writing formula that worked for them and stuck with it, seemingly to the pleasure of the cheering crowd.

Drive By Night provided guitar dominated alt-rock, filled with rhythmic riffs, clean vocals and nice harmonies. It may have been their first ever show together as a band, but they proved that they are full of potential and have obvious technical ability, they were just lacking that something extra. There were no obvious faults to pick out, with the songs or their live performance; they just seemed to be lacking the extra ‘oomph’ that could make them a fans’ favourite.

Then, and controversially to some, I skipped the chance of seeing Sonic Boom Six to see Carcer City, recommended by a friend, on the Hardtimes stage. I wasn’t disappointed. With the first sign of rough vocals and a loud breakdown to bring the song in, the Carcer City show also saw the first pits of the day. Declaring themselves as ‘scouse metal’, the lead singer, Patrick Pinion, said that they were “here to bring the heavy”, and they truly brought it. Showing their diversity they also found a place for softer vocals and a more technical rhythmic song, before bringing back the crunching breakdowns with force and a solid drum dominated instrumental to round things off.

Back to the main room and Tantrum to Blind were the next band to play, with the first and only female lead singer of the day (that I saw any way), whose high-register vocals were more reminiscent of Versaemerge than Halestorm. But a lot of energy and a good stage presence came from the band who seemed used to handling the crowd.

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (RJSA) then lit up the main stage with a pitch perfect ‘False Pretence’, as the crowd started to grow and get progressively more involved. They delivered exactly the performance you’d expect from an experienced band with years on the circuit under their belt. Throughout the short set there was a great vocal performance and a raging guitar solo in ‘In Fate’s Hands’. The set was just long enough for all of the classics and a couple off the new record too, before fans’ favourite ‘Facedown’ rounded off the set with the crowd bouncing and a sense of nostalgia, since it was one of the songs that first got me listening to ‘real music’ as a young whipper snapper.

Light You Up were unfortunate to be sandwiched between RJSA and Yashin, receiving a lot less attention from the dispersing crowd than they deserved. Songs like ‘Without You Here’ crashed through with progressive riffs and pounding drums, keeping a lively tempo and showing that Light you Up deserved to be more than an interlude between bands on the mainstage.

By the time Yashin opened with a ferocious start, the biggest crowd of the night had assembled for breakdowns and head-banging aplenty. Despite the fact that they seem to pay as much attention to their scene hairstyles as their music, Yashin’s saving grace is that it is still fucking good music and bloody well performed live too. They showed the added bonus of two vocalists, one riling the crowd up as the other sings/screams, and the overall band chemistry and stage presence saw the teenage girls (and boys) in the crowd swoon. Those of us not falling in love with their emo/scene image could still appreciate Harry’s melodic and Kevin’s demonic vocals, the riffs ripping through each and every song and the drumbeat that feels like an earthquake resonating through the room. The crowd was kept glued to the main stage, with circle pits, walls of death and even spinning on the spot (no, really,) to keep the set fresh and interesting. Even Harry bringing his mum out on stage mid-song (a slower song, don’t worry) after she’d flown in for the show was a nice touch and received a big cheer. The first signs of crowd surfing from fans and band members alike showed that the set was a job well done and that the gauntlet had been thrown down for the later bands to follow.

The boys from Don Broco were next on the mainstage, opening with ‘Priorities’ and showcasing the walk, which is essentially synchronised marching/dancing on the spot by the vocalist, guitarist and bassist. A lot of energy was showcased by the band and the crowd, with the lads bouncing around the stage, talking to the crowd and making fans do push-ups in the middle of the floor before a wall of death. They even took time out to return a lost passport that had been handed in, but in classic Don Broco style they had to make a few jokes in doing it. Musically the distinctive vocals stand out as much live as on the record, with the funky base another stand out feature and a lot of sing-along opportunities.

Blitz Kids then came out onto the smaller balcony stage, bouncing and jumping, showing off riffs and a sweetly done guitar solo. Overall they boasted a very rhythmic sound, a show full of energy, and subtle changes in tempo helped to build up songs to a climax and slow them down in again in the verses. However a lot of the set was spoilt to some degree by the We Are The Ocean crew testing the equipment on the other stage, distracting the crowd and meaning “check, check, check,” ran over some of BK’s songs.

When WATO came on they delivered a strong set, but definitely too a tiring crowd. Despite a good mix of old and new, fast and slow songs, there were no pits or crowd-surfing. Perhaps WATO just aren’t as loved in Liverpool, or despite the strong riffs, mix of powerful live vocals and rock/pop-punk drums, maybe everyone was just getting tired?

There were more teething problems later as technical difficulties meant Bury Tomorrow were late onto the Hardtimes stage, cutting more into The Blackout’s headline show on the Monster Energy stage. When they finally managed to get on stage the lads were all very apologetic, promising a speedy and powerful set. This was a promise they lived up to with a heavy set and small but brutal pits. As I enjoyed taking part in most of the pits the whole set flew by in a haze, the three song combination of ‘Sceptres-Redeemer-Waxed Wings’ pumped the room with energy, fuelling some of the craziest pits and loudest cheers the stage must have seen all year, never mind all day. There was even time for the band to convey messages of being comfortable with and happy about who you are, I vaguely remember hearing “it’s okay to like Bieber, hey, JB has a couple of good songs”; but it was business as usual as the set ended with a blood-boiling rendition of ‘Royal Blood’.

Because of the overrun, I was very late to The Blackout, but arrived just in time for an onstage marriage proposal (she said yes, whoever they both were). However, I have been reliably informed that they were the regular cheeky chappies we are all used to, telling the crowd they’re shit, calling themselves pricks and even trying to make the fans face the back of the room for one song. All in all, standard material from The Blackout.

It was only the first Radstock Festival, but it was truly a classic. If this can be recreated again then it promises many more happy years of metal, rock and punk in Liverpool.