Saturday, 3 October 2009

Live: Calico Street Riots/Torn Out - The Call Boy, Gravesend, 25/9/09

The current trend in rock 'n' roll music right now appears to be to go as big and as 'epic' as possible. Bands appear to be throwing more and more guitar tracks, strings, horns, choirs and ballads onto their records than ever before, with their eyes firmly set on blasting these enormous 'widescreen' 'sonic vistas' out off the stages of arenas and stadiums around the world. Ah yes, arenas and stadiums. Expensive tickets, usually a poor view of the band, sometimes poor sound quality, and nine times out of ten the band in question don't actually have the songs to fill the seismic venue, no matter how hard they are trying to...I'm not naming any names there.

Whatever. That's just my take on arenas. One thing is for sure though, if you're looking for a venue which is as diametrically opposed to Wembley Stadium as you can get, you wouldn't go far wrong with the Call Boy pub. Tucked away down a one-way street near the town's clock tower, the area set aside for tonight's bands (calling it a stage would be like calling a rowing boat the Titanic) is about the size of your average living room. The word that springs to mind is 'intimate'. So intimate, in fact, that if you were to stand at the front of the crowd, there is a chance you could step on the performing band's toes. It really is that kind of a venue, and it is in fact perfectly suited to the two bands performing tonight.

Torn Out (9/10) are up first, and after a lengthy delay caused by a stubborn PA system, the two-piece stroll up to the mics and begin at about 9:15, and it doesn't take long before their truly unique brand of gritty acoustic street-punk persuades people to start singing. Electric guitars are the order of the day tonight, and it gives the songs a little more meat, particularly with bassist Steve Knight's wicked bass lines and runs. Guitarist and vocalist Ben Smith hollars and barks his lines with equal amounts of anger and emotion, blasting out lyrics about boring towns, dead-end jobs, consumer culture and unfulfilled dreams with so much frustration and bitterness that you cannot help but be swept up by it, and you feel it is your duty to join in, especially on crowd favourites such as 'Knuckles and Pride' (complete with some superb whistling from Steve), 'Soul of These Streets', and set closer and band anthem 'Chasing Lost Nights'. The entirety of their self-titled EP is wheeled out and given a battering tonight, along with a new song entitled only as 'Retail' on the scribbled set-list, and this newie slots in nicely alongside the established favourites - I personally cannot wait to hear a recorded version, as it showed real promise and progression from a band who appear to be getting better and better as a song-writing unit.

I didn't really know what to expect from Calico Street Riots (10/10); unlike Torn Out, where I had listened and enjoyed their EP and also seen them live once before, I hadn't heard a single note of the folk-punk sextet, and had only the description that they sound like a 'drunken Flogging Molly' to go on. In the end, that description was absolutely spot on. From the moment they somehow managed to squeeze themselves all onto the 'stage' until the moment they said their goodnights and came off it, they inspired almost chaotic levels of dancing and hollered singalongs. The reaction from the crowd was frankly unbelievable, one of the most intense I've seen since Tyrannosaurus Alan set the fuse on a rabid skankathon back at the Red Lion in August. The songs all blended into one, which is normally a criticism, but in this case, it doesn't matter, as they were all of the same formula: rabid and frenzied folk-punk packed to bursting full of hooks, energy and infectious melodies. The six of them hammered as much power and raw danceability out of the tracks as possible - the rhythm section of brothers Nick (bass and backing vocals) and Dave (drums) Whiteoak set a tight foundation for the others to follow, bandana-clad frontman Ian Day shouted his lines with real gusto, guitarist Tage Wood seemed hell-bent on ringing as much noise as he could out of his guitar, and additional instrumentalists Nathenial Smith (accordion) and Laura Lancaster (fiddle) augmented the mayhem with hooks galore.

This kind of music is hardly subtle, or intricate, and to an extent is isn't even that particularly original, but do you know what? I can't think of many other bands who are so perfectly suited to this kind of venue. You find yourself not caring about any of the above, and simply becoming caught up in the chaos, and I can promise you this - I saw nobody leaving at the end of the night without a massive grin on their face. Tonight, in a pub full of punks and beer, Calico Street Riots are an absolute runaway success.

Overall: 9/10
Photos by Ben Thompson.

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