A nice evening in the company of a charming American woman aside, 2011 has been relatively quiet so far. Too quiet. And after a few missed chances thanks to inopportune public transport times (so what's new, then?), all of a sudden, two excellent-looking gigs come up on the same night in the same area of town. Oh, and both have the entrance fee of absolutely free. Typical, right? In the end, I plump for this show, and after getting lost in the streets of Finsbury Park (it's not an experience I'd recommend), I eventually make it to the World's End pub, ready for the first duty of 2011.
I'm thrown straight into the fray as soon as I step inside - my tardiness and willingness to explore the local area mean that I'm late arriving for the start of The Dilenquents' (69%) set. And a fairly good set it is too. I'd read on the event page for this show that The Dilenquents bill themselves as a 'reaction to modern day music' with an 'aggresive (sic) horror Punk sound', and who hope they can 'horrify/enlighten you'. Well, they dismally failed in the latter two points, as I wasn't scared or particularly enlightened in the slightest, and the usage of the word 'horror' in relation to their music is misleading - it's plain depressing, more than anything. However, an odd contradiction arises in their songs - whilst they try so hard to load them down with doom, gloom and quasi-Black Sabbath moody guitar licks and breaks, occasionally an outrageously catchy chorus or riff will burst free and ingrain itself in your ear canal. And it's these flashes of brilliance that mean that, despite all the mean stuff I've said, I'm intrigued to hear more from the Bedfordshire four-piece. They strike me as a band perhaps trying too hard to be edgy and to get up in people's faces, but their horror-punk schtick comes across more Twilight meets a particularly depressing episode of Eastenders than Last House on the Left, no matter what they themselves would want you to believe. Thing is, though, if they threw off the shackles and just went for it, there's enough here to tell me that they have the potential to really make the impact they desperately want to.
In fact, an apt demonstration of how to play to the top of your strengths without giving a stuff about an image for yourself is unveiled next up, as Inter-City Crazy Train (87%) unleash their set of punky ska fun. Fun being the operative word, as it's exactly that and more from start to finish, with bodies being persuaded to start skanking and moving for the first time this evening. The swing in mood is dramatic, with infectious off-beats and warm, summery melodies powering their high-energy set forward at a relentless pace. Frontman Gordy Cullum shouts his lines with a nice mix of raw power and soul, and is a livewire, bouncing presence throughout, flanked on his right by guitarist 'Mexican' Ed Dickinson, who augments Gordy's skanking riffs and vocal lines with neat licks and yelped backing vocals. The songs themselves are perfectly weighted and well-crafted; any unnecessary flab has been trimmed to enable the scalpel-sharp hooks (and there's plenty of those in almost every song) to shine. Gordy also takes a pause from singing every so often to interject blasts of trumpet into the skanking fun, but he's trumped in the additional instrument stakes by Ed, who first whips out a harmonica at opportune moments before tossing his Gretsch guitar to one side mid-set and plugging in a ukulele to raise the levels of skanking to new heights. These bursts of additional instrumentation add another string to their bow, but to be honest, the bow itself is so well-crafted and fun that these asides are just cherries on the top of a rather delicious cake of tight, high-energy two-tone ska. Raucous covers of the reggae classic 'The Harder They Come' and The Clash's 'White Riot' and the singalong antics of 'Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em' wrap up their set in style - great fun, and definitely one to watch for the future.
According to the words of a wise, sage old prophet (erm, Paul Smith), the next band up were on the verge of really going places in the scene, before disappearing into the wilderness without trace way back in 2003. And now they've broken cover again out of nowhere for tonight's show. Nine years is a long time in this business, but on tonight's evidence, it doesn't seem to have affected Jakal (78%) one bit - in fact, if Paul's rave reaction to them is anything to go by, they've only gotten better. As for me, someone who was oblivious to their existence first time around? The first impressions are very, very good. Like a fair few bands doing the rounds, their schtick is rooted firmly in a heavy, ska-punk type hybrid. Multiple vocalists? Check. Skanked verses and powerhouse choruses? Check. T-Alan style muscular riffs and sometimes rapped vocal lines? Check. The standard procedure then, although I won't accuse them of following the trend, as there's a chance that they invented the trend in the first damn place. And besides, it's a very entertaining trend when done well, as the aforementioned T-Alan and Random Hand have demonstrated. Jakal aren't quite at that stage yet, but they're not far off, I'll tell you. The trouble is with this type of music is that, as I've mentioned before, it's easy to fall into the trap of just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, with the result being a clunky, grinding mess as songs lurch from one genre-checkbox to another, and Jakal do occasionally skirt with this trap - for example, some songs overstay their welcome, and some vocal lines get unnecessarily raucous. It's almost as if the band themselves don't have faith in the songs in their original form, and in their attempts to beef them up, they just end up over-egging the pudding. However, none of these additional bits of flab are deal-breakers, and I still enjoyed their set - female co-vocalist Tali is gunning for Laila K's crown as the most all-action frontwoman on the circuit, and she damn near succeeds, jumping, dancing and belting out vocal lines with wild abandon all set long, and she is the focal point of the performance in amongst the army of guitars and dub-echo. So, the occasional flirt with disaster doesn't stop Jakal from being a success; here's hope they stick around and fulfill their early promise after the previous false starts.
Sadly, it's time for me to make the dash across town for the last trains home from Victoria, so I miss The Sterilizers, but I've already see enough to make the trip to North London very much worthwhile. A great evenings entertainment, all for the entry price of free - I'd say that's value for money, wouldn't you?