Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Detached - None The Wiser EP

It's safe to say that ska-punk is very much in rude health in the U.K. right now. Wherever you look, there are bands using the potent mixture of off-beats, bouncing horns and belting punk riffs to craft anthems aplenty. What's particularly refreshing is that nearly all of these bands carry their own identity with ease, and this offers a swift and effortless rebuke to certain hacks who accuse the genre of being generic, samey and hard to take seriously. In all honesty, most of these hacks are hardly the kind of people worth wasting the effort needed to take them seriously, but should you encounter one in the near future, then please point them in the direction of, on balance, the two best live acts on the circuit at this moment in time: Tyrannosaurus Alan and Random Hand. While you're at it, chuck them a copy of Detached's 'None the Wiser' EP and demand that they play it very loud on the headphones over a pint or four of beer, just to make sure they get the message.

Detached are a band I was told to look out for by quite a few people in 2010, and on the evidence of their set in Sheerness at the start of this month, this hype is nicely justified. That day, I witnessed a band high on energy and bursting to the seems with hooks, but sometimes tampered by a slightly schizophrenic delivery. To be honest, the recorded output on display on this disc does nothing but back up those impressions,but one thing I will say is that the ADHD tendencies (namely flipping between beats and tempos in the same amount of time it takes most of us to blink or register a light being switched on) seem less obvious here. I put that down to me getting to know the songs a little better after repeated listens - it seems first impressions can be misleading.

So, with that criticism disposed of in a back-alley dustbin, we are left with a collection of songs that batter the listener over the head with equal parts melody, energy, frantic tempos and fun. It's fair to say the Caerphilly sextet nail their colours firmly to the mast and aren't for turning away from the formula they've brewed, and quite frankly, why should they when it sounds this good? The six tracks fly by in short, sharp, white-hot shocks, with Rhys Mence and Owain Evans' frenzied guitars and Josh Clark's pounding drumbeats driving the action forward before allowing bursts of horns from Gareth Talbot and Ben Nicholls to mesh in and out of the action to great effect. Mence's gravelly, bellowed vocals work very well, and bassist Gethin Lock does a mean job of keeping the guitars on a tight leash and locking everything together. Overall, the band, despite their numbers, are a potent and razor-sharp cocktail of speed and musical chops. If one is looking for direct comparisons, then try to imagine an unholy alliance between Less Than Jake and mid-90s era NOFX, with the result being as good as that combination sounds.

As for the songs, can I just say that whoever wrote the intro/chorus riff to 'F.U.B' deserves a beer for writing hands down one of the catchiest riffs this year and for many years. Oh yeah, and the song it's attached to isn't too bad either. Opener 'Don't Bite The Crust' sets the frantic tone from the outset, and the closing one-two burst of 'Horizons' and 'Rid Of It' are also highlights in the festival of punchy hooks and melodies. 'Teeth Rattling Boneshaker' is perfectly placed mid-disc, as it offers a nice, skank-tastic interlude, and is guaranteed to whack a smile on your face; that's assuming the tracks surrounding it haven't done that already, of course, which is highly unlikely, as this is overall one of the most enjoyable discs I've heard in a while.

I could be picky and say that the production quality, whilst brilliant at boosting out the guitars, makes the bass and drums sound a little rubbery, or that the songwriting is still a little rough around the edges, but the bottom line is this: there are records that I listen to once or twice, then put on the shelf and occasionally dig them out now and again thereafter, and there are records that I put on and winding up listening to start to finish multiple times in succession. This EP falls squarely in the latter category. Great fun, and if this is a blueprint of the future, then bring it on - 2011 is there for the taking for Detached on this evidence.

Label: None (Unsigned)
Release Date: 13th March 2010

Rating: 8.5/10

Standout Tracks: 'Don't Bite The Crust', 'F.U.B.', 'Teeth Rattling Boneshaker'.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Live: Random Hand ft. The Skints, Dirty Revolution and others - Camden Underworld, London 11/12/10

You know something? This whole local punk scene thing has it's upsides. 2 gigs in 2 consecutive Saturdays, both blessed with awesome lineups of the movers and shakers of UK underground punk and ska music. And both featuring Tyrannosaurus Alan, funnily enough. But, whilst the Medway boys were the undisputed stars of the show last week in Sheerness, a crammed Camden Underworld packed with an all-star lineup from the length and breadth of the UK is a different proposition. Make no mistake, this is a step up from last weekend, as good as it was; this is a heavyweight showdown in the heart of the capital, and one that has 'gig of the year' stamped all over it, top to bottom.

There's two ways you can view Tyrannosaurus Alan's (9/10) opening slot - either, it's to guarantee a blazing start to proceedings, or a result of booking agent politics that does the band a disservice. In a way, their 30-minute set gives evidence for both cases - for the former, they blast out their fantastic rap-ska-punk hybrid and get bodies moving with no effort at all despite the 4:30pm start time and a distinct lack of alcohol consumed thus far (I say that - I wouldn't put it past some members of this audience to have been drinking since sunrise), and for the latter, their set is of such storming quality (as always, really) that it leaves the nagging impression that they should be hitting the stage later and further up the bill. That would be the case in a perfect world, but a) I can understand the reasons behind the scheduling, and b) to be honest, the T-Alan crew don't look like they give a fuck about such issues - they're just here to kick ass and have fun, just as always, and it's only good and proper that they have a like-minded audience, with skank pits kicking off without a second invitation. The dual-vocal attack is as always a devastating combo, with guitarist Ollie Bill Harries spitting, bouncing and skanking, and partial trombonist Simon Champ hollering, barking and urging the crowd on. Drummer Craig Shepard holds everything together with tight and ruthless beats, and the horn section of Sam Wilson (trumpet) and Tom 'with dreads' Broster and Chris Humphrey (saxophones) deliver hooks aplenty in the eye of the storm. A blazing start to the event, and a childhood dream (if you believe the band) fulfilled in style. If there's any justice, this lot should be back here in more prominent slots - who knows, maybe even headlining - in the near future.

I spoke before about how difficult it is to follow on from T-Alan, and tonight it's the turn of Broken Nose (5.5/10) to try and step up in the wake of the explosive opening. What doesn't help this particular band's cause is a lead singer who's constant screamed vocals sounds like Zach de la Rocha getting raped by Frank Carter and Kid Rock in the toilets - this may be personal opinion, but I couldn't stand them. The rest of the band appeared to follow suit, spewing forth a somewhat functional blasting of punky, hardcore-y heaviosity that, combined with (and mainly because of) the razor-blade-being-rammed-into-my-ears vocal delivery, begins to grate very swiftly. However, occasionally they'll switch to a slower reggae groove, and it's here that they earn a few points back, because they're much superior in this element. It's almost cunning how they do it - just when I'm really getting pissed off over the terrible screaming, a nice reggae section or riff comes along to calm me down again. Yes, I see what you did there, Broken Nose, you sly bunch, but it's still not enough for me to fully enjoy your set, especially when you toss aside the reggae pretensions anyway for a final two songs of crashing caterwauling. Like I said, this could be personal opinion; I mean, a fair few people seem to think Laila from Sonic Boom Six's vocal delivery is maddeningly awful, and I quite like it. Also, the idea of ska-core as a genre doesn't really wash with me, so what I will say is give them a listen for yourself - if this is your thing, then take this review as ignorant bile. Otherwise, steer clear.

It appears screamed vocals are en vogue tonight, as next band up I.C.H. (7/10) are also quite keen on them. But instead of shrieking-cat-in-a-washing-machine, I.C.H.'s frontman prefers gruff, whiplash barking to get his point across, and it's a little easier to digest, if no easier on the ear. I was told minutes before their set that these boys are due to tour sometime next year with The Jack Brews, and it doesn't take long to work out why - crushing, rollicking old-skool punk rock with hardcore overtones are the order of the day here, delivered with absolutely no subtlety and a lot of devastating pace. If you're looking for a metaphor to describe them, try to imagine Rancid doing a set composing entirely of covers of all of Lars Fredrikson's favourite 1980s UK street punk and hardcore bands, and you have a fairly accurate summation of I.C.H.'s schtick. It's relentless, with buzzsaw riffs and runaway train drumming battering you senseless, and although I don't have much time for hardcore music personally, there's enough punk rock crunching guitars and attitude in the melee for me to be drawn in. It does suffer from getting a bit samey, but in a short, sharp, half-hour shock of a set, the lack of deviation from the standard formula works well, especially with the amount of alcohol now starting to float around the venue. Job well done, and that tour with the Brews sounds like an enticing prospect.

The first of the three touring bands, Dirty Revolution (7.5/10), are up next, and...hang on, are you sure this isn't The Skints arriving early? A female-fronted band playing mellow reggae...actually, that's where the similarities end. For one, The Skints actually have memorable tunes - too many of DR's early songs just seem to float absent-mindedly out of the venue without ever leaving any kind of mark. Which is rather odd, considering I've been led to believe that these guys (and girl) are known for a gritty and powerful mix of punk, ska, and reggae - I can only think I got the wrong Facebook page, although it did look very convincing. Because what I'm seeing, and what I'm hearing, isn't particularly dirty, and it's not very revolutionary either, if you'll pardon the pun. I did miss the very start of their set, so maybe I missed a few gems, but what I did see was pretty run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter stuff, with their music lacking the chilled, easy melodies of Captain Accident or Jaya the Cat, or the gritty street feel of The Skints. It's desperately crying out for an identity, which is why it's refreshing to see them chuck the reggae pretensions in a skip for the final couple of songs and up the tempo, and it's now that they reveal themselves as a fine little ska band with real promise in this area. And by ska, I do mean just ska, for a change - as I've said before, whilst ska-punk is all very well and good, there seems to be an absolute deluge of bands ploughing that particular furrow currently (including the two bands at the top and bottom of this bill), and not much exclusivity for either ska or punk rock as individual styles, and I'd love to see Dirty Revolution progress with their ska overtones, not only for the reason above, but because they seem so damn good at it. The excellent band anthem 'I Love Reggae (I Love Ska)' proves this with a fine ending to their set, but it doesn't seem enough. It may be that the earlier reggae-orientated stuff needs repeated listens on Myspace to sink in, but it's the 2-3 ska tunes at the end of the set that earn them most of the points, because they were the only tunes that managed to hold my attention and get me interested.

I happen to end up directly stage front for the start of Moral Dilemma's (7.5/10) set, and as a result I end up getting shot-blasted in the face with an assault on the senses as they kick into their set. It's a 3-piece, with a singer touting a Gibson SG and a female bassist who contributes backing vocals, but any comparisons to The Subways are given a stern battering over the head with a stick of wood before being dumped in the gutter. Like I.C.H. earlier, MD are all about the hardcore punk, and just in case you hadn't gotten enough screamed vocals for the evening, frontman Craig Temple knows no other way of delivering vocals than by screaming them like an outraged bear.
Musically, they remind me a lot of Black Flag, and for most that would be a massive complement - but I'm not a big fan of Black Flag, sacrilegious as that probably is. So by all rights, I should stick my fingers in my ears and head for the bar, but again like I.C.H. earlier, there's more than enough here to keep me heartily engaged, no matter how much the vocals begin to grate - and believe me, they do. First off, the sheer amount of energy on display is pretty astonishing, from all members. Bassist Chloe Chourrout snarls backing vocals and bounds around the stage with wild abandon, and Temple himself is a mass of sweat and frenzied spasms of movement - when he's not abusing his guitar or loosing his temper with the microphone, he's rallying the troops in the crowd in between the songs with stirring anti-authoritarian speeches, topically revolving around the student protests and riots in London a few days ago, and whilst I do think it's easy nowadays for bands to shout 'fuck the police!' and get a reaction, much like it was cool for US bands to shout 'Fuck Bush!' intermittently a few years ago, the level of passion and righteous fury these sentiments are delivered with deserves much respect. Secondly, they aren't afraid to mix the standard hardcore formula up occasionally, either by slowing the tempo a little (which isn't saying much considering their standard tempo is somewhere between stupidly fast and hyperspeed) or breaking things down, bit by bit, allowing Chourrout a chance to exhibit some neat and excellent bass skills, before building things back up to a riotous conclusion. It's these moments that prevent things from getting too samey, and this (admittedly rather slim) level of restraint gives the high-octane moments more impact. I'm curious to see if they develop on this in the future. For now, I can best sum them up as Black Flag mixed with 80s UK and US hardcore punk, so if you're a big fan of those styles, then feel free to dismiss my ramblings, because you'll almost certainly enjoy Moral Dilemma.

Since when did it get so crowded in here? Seriously, there's suddenly no room to move in here, with bodies crammed shoulder-to-shoulder on the Underworld floor. Actually, it's no surprise that the room has filled up so quickly - we're at the business end of the gig, and the penultimate band on have been the go-to band to support pretty much every big US punk/ska band that has toured here in the last 18 months or more. Yup, it's time for me to see what the fuss is about and catch The Skints (8.5/10) live for the first time, and whilst I do enjoy their set of gritty street reggae/dub stylings, it bewilders me just how maniacal the crowd get - moshing, pogoing and stagediving at the slightest opportunity, which seems odd considering the music they're actually hollering along to, though I suppose with the amount of drink flowing around the venue by now, you could put some dross by Coldplay on the speakers and people would still go berserk to it, and as I've already said, The Skints collective have been gathering fans left, right and centre over the last year or so to form together a hardcore band of followers. All of what I've written so far sounds like I'm being condescending to The Skints, which would be doing them a disservice - their high musicianship and technicality flows into the gritty, guttural rapped vocal lines to create a lovely fusion of melody and bubbling rhythm. They see T-Alan's 2 co-vocalists and raise them 3 here - drummer Jamie Kyriakides is probably the pick of the bunch with a throaty and soulful delivery, which meshes brilliantly with quasi-frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist Marcia Richards at stage front. Richards' vocals veer sometimes into dancehall in a rootsy trip through reggae's history books, and it always has this lovely feeling of flitting over the top of the music around it. The only weak link is guitarist Josh Rudge - his rapping is often close to God-awful, and sometimes downright cringeworthy, but it does improve in all fairness as the set goes on. Musically the band are close to spot-on, with Richards' threatening to steal the show whilst flitting between vocals, saxophone, flute, melodica and keyboards with ease, but to be honest the true heroes of The Skints are the rhythm section of
Kyriakides' drumming and Jon Doyle's excellent and fluid basslines. The band themselves recognise this and allow Doyle a nice solo section in one of the songs, and his bass work subtly drives each song forward. In reggae, great bass work is absolutely vital, and The Skints have that area nailed to a tee. Overall, a higly enjoyable set, although it still doesn't convince me that the band are worth the rabid adoration they are affored. Maybe I'm being overly cynical, and The Skints themselves certainly deserve plaudits for an excellent and unique take on roots reggae.

So, just like last week, the penultimate band on the bill threaten to steal the show, and also just like last week, a fair few people seem to bail, thinking that there's nothing else to offer. Unlike last week though, a) there's still a very healthy contingent in the crowd for the headline act, and b) there's absolutely no way Random Hand (10/10) will allow themselves to be upstaged by one of the support acts, and as they charge into action, there's a sense of something pretty special erupting. 2010 hasn't been the best of years for the Hand, but now that they have a new drummer in place, they've returned and are ready to make up for lost time. The formula they've crafted and honed demonstrates the advantage of restraint I talked about earlier - the furiously skanked verses mixed with anthemic choruses and buzzsaw riffs to form a ridiculously catchy, energetic and powerful ska-punk-rock explosion quite unlike anything I've heard. The closest comparison I can perhaps give is a ska-influenced Billy Talent, but even then that particular metaphor is tenuous to say the least. What is so special to behold is that nothing the band does feels at all forced; it's all so natural, effortlessly fluid and razor-sharp. Frontman Robin Leitch is an intense whirligig of energy during songs, and a warm, friendly presence between songs, chatting with the crowd in his distinct Bradford burr, and directing the captive audience to pull off a couple of Camden Underworld firsts: the first ever 'crawl of death' (as opposed to Wall of Death, see?), and the first ever figure of 8 circle pit around the twin pillars on the Underworld floor. As a promised reward for this, he gives us 'partial nudity' in return - basically him struggling to get his sweaty T-shirt off. All fun stuff, especially with guitarist Matt Crosher interjecting occasional lines, and a brief technical delay with Crosher's guitar is smoothed over effortlessly. So, with any divide between band and audience well and truly dismantled, we're invited to join in heartily with the Hand's ska-punk party, through any way possible - outright moshing, pogoing, skanking, hollering along with Leitch and his cohorts, crowd-surfing, stage-diving, you name it, people are doing it without a second thought; almost as if it's obligatory, nay, compulsory. Even members of the other bands are at it, with several members of T-Alan in particular dancing and grinning like idiots (and even stagediving at some points). They inspire that level of rabid emotion through almost every second of their set - and when you've got an armoury of tunes of such high quality as this, coupled with such a superb live show, it's no surprise at all. Every member plays their part - new drummer Sean Howe is a powerhouse of crashing beat precision, bassist Joe Tilston stakes his claim to be one of the best bassists in the business at the moment with a superbly rhythmic and fluid performance, and the dynamic duo of Leitch's barked vocals and Crosher's dynamic guitar work are the formidable icing on a brilliant and anthemic cake. Speaking of anthems, the Hand certainly aren't short of one or two of those -
the obligatory new songs from delayed new album 'Seething is Believing' show a nice progression from the already existing material, ramping up the riffs and trombone hooks to new levels. But with a back catalogue as strong as this, inevitable fan favourites have already been formed, and nearly all of them are unleashed tonight; the rousing 'Play Some Ska' comes early on, and the stunning double-gut-punch of 'Anger Management' and 'Scum Triumphant' ends the regular set. After a one-song encore, the band say their goodbyes and depart, to leave behind the wreckage of a sweaty and delirious crowd, delighted with the night's entertainment.

I began this review by touting this gig as possibly one of the best of the year, and overall, despite some dips in quality (and a contingent of plastic punk posers trying not to spoil their mohawks, but we'll talk about that in another post), tonight has lived up to billing in some style - a great combination of reggae, ska and uncompromising hardcore punk, bookended by probably the two strongest ska-punk bands in the U.K. at this time. And on tonight's evidence, 2011 looks like a fantastic year in prospect for the UK underground scene.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Live: We Are The Union & others all-day show - The Ivy Leaf Bar, Sheerness, 4/12/10

Considering the continuing presence of mysterious white powdery stuff on the ground, the fact that this gig even took place is a small miracle in itself. Seriously, it goes beyond funny and into the realms of facepalm-inducingly pathetic just how bad this country - mainly the government and local councils - are at dealing with the snow. After a week couped up inside listening to interminable news reporters standing around looking stupid and wittering on about 'the treacherous conditions taking their grip' and other such bollocks, I was rather up for a decent gig, and it appears Mother Nature agreed, easing up on the snow just in time for what, on paper, looked like one of the gigs of the year. A great little venue playing host to a roster of bands which read like a who's-who of the UK scene, complete with American headliners fresh off of tour with none other than Less Than Jake. This was a gig not to be missed, and by hook or by crook, and with a helping hand from Messrs Wayne and Tom with Dreads, I hitched a lift down and was able to bare witness to the fun that unfolded.

It's pretty much a given that any all-day event will never start on time, and I arrived just after the 4:45pm eventual start time, to be greeted with the slightly surreal sight of a bloke bobbing around on stage with an acoustic guitar doing tongue-in-cheek covers of Disney themes and old 90's pop songs. It didn't take long to deduce that this was in fact opening act Team Harry (6/10), though it's debatable whether the 'Team' element could be applicable, seeing as it was only the 'Harry' part, in the form of vocalist and guitarist Harry Broster, present onstage. He took the opportunity of having a stage to himself to essentially dick around for half an hour, poking fun at James Blunt and cheesy boy bands, amongst others. Hell, this was about as life-affirming as the toast I ate that morning, but it's still good fun all the same, and actually comes across more as a stand-up comedy set than a live music show, not that that's a bad thing at all.

Dodgy S Club 7 covers aside, the first band on proper were Gravesend's own My Third Leg (7/10), a band I seem to have seen live more times in the last few months than I have eaten hot dinners. And to be honest, there wasn't that much different about this show to the previous three times I've seen them - you could practically copy-paste my review of them at Piccadilly Circus at the end of October and you'd have an accurate picture of tonight's show. Frontman Will Woodrow was as always warm, witty and humble, acting as a counterpoint to bassist Dave Ja Vu, who bounced around the stage non-stop and punctuated nearly every song with staccato 'eys!' and other yelped backing vocals. Drummer Paul Smith had a fairly decent set, making only a couple of mistakes - it's just a shame then that they were both so glaringly obvious that a deaf man wearing earmuffs in Timbuktu would've winced at them. It wasn't a great set overall for the Smith brothers - guitarist Mike also suffered problems with his amp cutting out, and overall the set felt a little flat compared to previous shows. Perhaps it was the early start time, a lengthy journey down from Gravesend, maybe both? I'm not sure, but what is certain is that they are admirably consistent in the quality of their performances, which considering the amount of gigs they've gotten through this year, will serve them in good stead. The challenge now in the new year will be to see if they can lift themselves up another few gears as a unit and go from 'good band' to 'great band worthy of headline status at events like this'.

I know what you're thinking - that bloke in the picture doesn't look much like either of The Plan's vocalists, Tom Crabb or Andrew Keech. That's because neither of them were actually present, for some reason or another. So rather than bail altogether, bassist Wayne Tully and drummer Ben Gower hastily recruited Captain Bastard and the Scallywags' resident mandolin player Jordan Harris (pictured) as makeshift frontman, renamed themselves Mexican Wave (6.5/10), and proceeded to belt out a set of various Nirvana and Green Day covers with varying degrees of success. Of course, mistakes and technical sloppiness in these circumstances are about as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning and politicians lying to save face, so we wound up hearing the same verse to 'Longview' repeated 3 times (in fact, most bands have a problem with that song - Dr Goon brutally buttfucked it, and even The Submission struggled with the lyrics), and 'When I Come Around' clunked badly at times, but all things considered, the group actually did pretty well. Wayne's slick bass playing and Ben's driving beats formed a strong backbone when they fire together, just as they do on a regular basis with The Plan, while Harris brought an energetic delivery and barked vocals to the party. The Nirvana covers in particular went down very well, and as they ended on another Green Day cover, the criminally underrated 'Burnout', there was a sense that the trio might have stumbled on a combination that has potential to work if it's actually formed into a proper band. It'll be interesting to see if they decide to progress with the idea.

Next up came part one of the Welsh invasion, in the form of Caerphilly's Detached (8/10). I'd heard a lot about this highly-touted ska-punk sextet, and tonight I saw exactly why they're creating such a buzz. This is proper ska-punk, in the purest sense of the word - snarling guitar riffs meld with bouncing horns and skanking beats to create a vicious, hook-laden assault that owes heavily to Less Than Jake and Big D and the Kids Table, but there's also a mild pop-punk streak running through their repertoire, bringing to mind early Kids Can't Fly or perhaps a revamped version of A Boy Named Girl with an added horn section, if you can imagine that. Frontman Rhys Mence was a livewire firecracker of energy with a vocal delivery to match, and bassist Gethin Lock cut an imposing presence next to him as they led the charge from the front. They did fall at times into a familiar trap experienced in this genre, in that some of the songs flit undisciplined from tempo to tempo, and there's never much time for a hook to embed itself in your head before they veer onto another one. Just because you have a lot of weapons in your armoury, doesn't mean you have to use as many as you can at any one time. They certainly don't suffer this as badly as other bands (I'm looking at you, Sonic Boom Six), and it didn't detract from what is an exhilarating performance full of high technical skill and chemistry. Watch out for a review of their current EP very soon, which I picked up immediately after their set from the merch stall.

Part Two of the Welsh invasion came courtesy of the band I was most looking forward to seeing for the first time - Cardiff's Captain Accident and the Disasters (9/10). Considering the enormous gamut of ska-punk bands littering the scene right now (in itself no bad thing), CA&TDs embracing of reggae so wholeheartedly makes for a refreshing change of pace, and they laid down a set of relaxed and heavily melodic grooves which got heads bobbing and bodies swaying with consummate ease. This is music so infused with the spirit of summer that it felt criminal that we were hearing it on a cold December evening, but the truth is, everyone was too busy having fun to notice - much like Jaya the Cat, this is music to loose yourself for half an hour with, swaying with the chilled melodies. Frontman Adam Parsons, in his alter ego as Captain Accident, had a soulful delivery with his vocals, and was very friendly and affable in between songs. His Disasters backing band were a smooth and fluid combination, with Earl Christian's excellent basslines and Huw Jones' nifty drumbeats providing the perfect foundation for both Parsons and lead guitarist Ryan Steadman, who's gorgeous, surf-rock-infused lead parts added another dimension to the fun. Like a modern-day Jimmy Cliff or Toots and the Maytals, this Captain and his merry men are a shining example of just how joyous reggae music can be, and long may they continue - their Pick Up the Microphone EP/Album is another record I'll run the rule over in the next few weeks.

One Day Elliot (7/10) are a band who have certainly paid their dues and earned the respect of the scene - touring and recording for all of 12 years, with multiple big-money record deals turned down along the way, tells it's own story. Tonight they successfully managed to defy their age and delivered a set full of heavy, pop-punk-inflected action, with the occasional bursts of epic overtones a la Funeral for a Friend. I personally didn't take to their music as enthusiastically as others did, but that didn't stop me admiring the energy of the performance, with frontman Paul Richards working the crowd brilliantly. They also exhibited on the shiny new tracks some awesome vocal harmonies, something that caught me completely by surprise and adds another string to their already rather crowded bow. Impressive stuff, and a demonstration from the proverbial greybeards of the scene that they still have the drive and hunger to continue for many years yet - here's to another 12 years, eh?

We were by now heading towards the climax of the event, and despite the best efforts of a valiant band of Welshmen earlier to try and steal the show, the night was only ever going to be about one band - the pride of Medway, Tyrannosaurus Alan (10/10). From the moment the seven members crammed onto the stage and surged into action, it was complete carnage on the floor - bodies pogoing and skanking everywhere in an incendiary display of energy from both crowd and band. Co-vocalist and occasional trombone player Simon Champ took centre stage and led the troops, snarling and spitting his vocals with wild abandon and whipping the crowd up into a frenzy with ease, getting fists in the air and circle pits spinning. Guitarist and fellow vocalist Ollie Harries gleefully assisted in the mayhem, and the band as a whole drove home bouncing hook after powerhouse riff with stunning precision and unity. Horns blared, basslines boomed, drums crashed, Harries' guitar crunched and the aforementioned vocals chattered like staccato machine-guns in a devastating display of contemporary ska-punk, blending their wide-ranging influences (from hip-hop to funk by way of Skindred ragga-punk) into a seamless and rip-roaring stream of awesome and honestly life-affirming anthems. The horn hook from 'The Officer Problem' embeds in your brain like a piece of white-hot shrapnel, and if the likes of 'Cheer Up' and 'Tunnels' don't get you skanking frantically, then I'm going to save you the bother and declare you medically dead. Fantastic fun. Time to raise a glass for T-Alan, one of the finest live bands in the UK right now - 2010 has certainly been their year.

You really had to pity We Are The Union (8/10) - they were supposed to be the headliners and all-star international act, and yet they discovered tonight that it's almost damn near impossible to follow on from T-Alan, largely because, once the dust has settled, there's barely anyone actually left in the venue - I'd say around 20-30 people remained when the American ska-punkers hit the stage. It may well have made sense for the two bands to have swapped around on the bill, with T-Alan headlining instead - yes, WATU are internationally well-known, and it's a pretty big deal for them to be playing a tiny club in Sheerness having just come off of a UK tour with Less than Jake and Zebrahead, but let's face it, you could put Less Than Jake themselves on and offer free beer to all attendees, and they'd still struggle to pull a crowd on a par with T-Alan. The fact that WATU still managed to rip through an energetic set despite the thinning numbers (trombone player Matt Belhanger took time out after one song to bemoan this fact, and thank those who stuck around) is admirable and shows great conviction. Mind you, the music they play demands an energetic delivery by it's very nature - buzzsaw ska-punk rock that varies in pace between breakneck and blistering. In fact, I'm going to coin a new term for them - 'skate-ska'. Because listening to them felt like listening to a skater kid's mixtape, a mixtape that skips from Less Than Jake to NOFX to Black Flag to Bad Religion to Mad Caddies and back again. It's just a shame that they fell into the same trap I mentioned above with Detached and SB6 - ill-disciplined songwriting. In fact, forget just bad discipline, this was flat-out musical schizophrenia - if ten seconds went by without sudden tempo change, then that meant you had probably passed out unconscious on the floor, gibbering and foaming at the mouth. Their music has promise, definitely, it's just that it comes and goes so quickly that you'll wonder if you were just imagining it. Like I said earlier with Detached, pick one weapon, or perhaps two at the most at any one time, and batter us over the head with that - switching weapons every five seconds more often than not kills any momentum you've built up, and can mean that songs breeze by with a lot of bluster and flare, but with no end product. Whereas T-Alan's songs will be lodged in my head until sometime after Christmas, too many of WATU's tracks will slip into obscurity until I look them up on Myspace again. If they rectify this, then they have potential to be a great band; there's nothing wrong with their live show, which was tight and frenetic from first note to last. Drummer Jim Margle switched through the various tempos without breaking sweat, and his powerhouse drumming drove the entire performance with great precision and technical ability, whilst directly in front of him onstage, frontman Reed Michael Wolcott was a hunched, aggressive figurehead with a whiplash vocal style to match. In the end, this was never going to be the glorious finale it claimed to be - T-Alan ruthlessly saw to that - but it was nevertheless a decent way of wrapping things up, and there was more than enough on show to convince me that WATU are a band worth investigating further. If they can get whoever writes their songs to calm the fuck down, then there's a chance they can harness the explosive power they possess and focus it into something great.

Summation time: with a lineup this strong, it was always going to be difficult for this show to live up to the heavy weight of expectation, but do you know what? It actually does end up matching the hype, and then some. Arguably though, this was by far and away Tyrannosaurus Alan's night, and their spectacular performance was worth the trip down and admission fee on it's own. The likes of Detached, Captain Accident, We Are The Union et al all played their part well, but in the end they were all overshadowed by one of the absolute greats of the current UK scene right now, and it was a pleasure, as well as quite a thrill, to bear witness to them.

Overall 9/10

All photos by Vic Wintergreen.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Anti-Flag - The People Or The Gun

Allow me to be frank: In terms of new music, 2010 has been a barren wasteland of sand, more sand and dog turds. I thought I must've missed something in my coursework and A-level-imposed exile from society during the earlier months of the year, but since then I've been digging around on my hands and knees in the piles of generic, manufactured, Auto-Tuned to death excrement, and there really has been only two records worth noting this year - Feeder's Renegades, and Bad Religion's The Dissent of Man. Even Paul Smith, a veritable oracle on punk and rock 'n' roll music, and a man who has his finger relatively on the pulse of new releases, was at a loss to recall any decent records emerging this year.

If there has been anything I've missed in my musical dumpster diving, then please do endeavour to bring them to my attention, but for now, fuck it, I've had enough. Let's sweep aside into the recycle bin the droves of monotonous bilge that have made up 2010, and cast our minds way back to 2009, which while not being a classic year, was a damn sight better in terms of records. It appears, however, that I was too busy sticking the boot into Green Day for producing the obese, flatulent monstrosity that was 21st Century Breakdown to notice that another band had put out a political punk rock record - and what's more, it was infinitely better. Welcome then, to Anti-Flag's The People or The Gun, an album that, had I known about it at the time, could've gone up against The Submission and AFI for the 'Album of 2009' challenge belt, and given both a seriously bloody nose. It really is an absolute treat, and I thank Paul for finally bringing it to my attention.

I've long had a soft spot for Anti-Flag -
It doesn't particularly matter if you agree or not with the strident political and social observations present on nearly every song of theirs, as there's a lot to admire in the blisteringly hooky and punchy punk rock that these sentiments are attached to. They have a back catalogue positively teeming with anthems, and I'd recommend 2004's The Terror State and 2005's For Blood And Empire to anybody wishing not only to get into the band, but the genre of punk rock in general.

However, the latter of those two albums was released on a 'major' label, RCA Records, and this brings us to a sticking point with latter-day AF. Having openly stuck two fingers up at major labels earlier on in their career, their decision to defect to the dark side was met with howls of derision, and 2008's The Bright Lights of America was a lacklustre damp squib. They were subsequently dumped by RCA right around the same time the object of so much of their ire, a certain George W. Bush, was being forcibly ejected from the White House. Instead of putting their feet up and congratulating themselves on a decent decades' work, the band regrouped, returned to the independent arena with SideOneDummy, and instead refocused their crosshairs onto new targets, of which there are still plenty.

This fresh impetus of rage and rebellious frustration is what drives The People or The Gun, but what is refreshing about the record as a whole is that it is no backwards grab at credibility (hell, it's unlikely the band gave a shit about such trivial things in the first place), rather, a condensing of all the best moments and successful experiments of the last five to seven years into eleven tracks of vibrant hooks and varying degrees of punch. The slower numbers balance out the white-hot intensity of the faster tracks, giving a nice feeling of pacing and flow - it's no good just bombarding someone with endless sensory overload, as this simply dilutes the power and message and grows tiring really quickly. Exhibit A: The already mentioned 21st Century Breakdown. Exhibit B: The last few Call of Duty videogames. Anti-Flag are masters of pacing, and what helps is that when they do deviate off-script, some charming surprises crop up - 'The Gre(A)T Depression', loosely based around a Bob Dylan number and featuring guest vocals that read like a who's who of modern punk rock, is a nicely melodic, vaguely Springsteen-esque piece, and 'This is The First Night' uses a more folky rhythm to emphasise the uplifting lyrics.

That being said, it's when the band are foaming at the mouth with rage that the best tracks arise. Opener 'Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington DC' has all the battering ram energy of a runaway freight train, complete with religious references that would make Bad Religion proud, 'The Economy is Suffering...Let It Die' is a stinging indictment of the bank bail-outs strung to an outrageously catchy chorus, and 'You're Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It)' is a 60-second slice of crunching hardcore punk with a very AFI-esque backing vocal line. The highlight of the entire LP, and indeed one of my favourite punk rock songs for quite a while, is the fantastic 'We Are The One', which sounds not dissimilar to Rise Against's 'Savior' - with the big difference being that it's much, much better. Unfortunately they cannot quite sustain the same level of quality throughout, and the end of the disc isn't quite as strong as the start, but the clincher here comes in the overall consistency - there's not one bad track on the LP, and not once will you be reaching for the 'skip' button.

So, a punk rock group who not only survived a weakening of their powers in the hands of the big bad major label wolf, but emerged on the other side stronger than ever before? How many other bands can you think of who have managed to pull that one off, aside perhaps Bad Religion? If you were one of the many cynics who turned their backs on Anti-Flag the moment they signed on the RCA dotted line, you can come in from the cold now - this is a brilliant return to form. For everyone else who never doubted Anti-Flag's continuing power in spite of their dalliances with the darkside, then rejoice and rock away - you've just been proven right.

Album Details:
Label: SideOneDummy Records
Release Date: June 9th, 2009
Rating: 9/10
Standout Tracks: 'Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington DC', 'We Are The One,' 'You're Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It)'.