Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Green Day - Awesome As Fuck (Live)

Ah hello there Green Day, good to see you again. It's been a while, hasn't it? You've been gallivanting around the world in various arenas touring that 21st Century Breakdown codswallop, haven't you? Or as it may as well have been called, 'American Idiot re-done by a band doing a really shit impression of U2'. Oh hello, what's this? A live album/DVD combo from this aforesaid tour? I look forward to every song being dragged out to ten minutes for countless bouts of 'whey-ohs' with the crowd, like you've been doing for the last ten years or more. Oh hold up, the setlist isn't a re-run through your greatest hits catalogue? And it actually contains some fan favourites from the depths of your back catalogue? What's the matter, got fed up of pre-teen girls screaming at you and want to appease the hardcore crew who deserted you when American Idiot went multi-platinum? Not that any band should be in the position of having to appease a narrow-minded and petty fanbase, but I will admit that my attention was grabbed when I saw such songs as 'Burnout' and 'Going to Pasalaqua' would feature, so I picked it up pretty soon after release.

Well, one thing I can report, and one thing that becomes obvious after about four songs on the DVD - nobody's told Billie Joe Armstrong that the whole 'I said whey-oh' shtick wore anorexia-thin while Saddam Hussein was still in power, as he seems desperate to cram it into every single fucking song, even if it's not appropriate. It's gotten so predictable, too - in fact, here's an idea for a night in. Gather up a bunch of mates and a fuckload of alcoholic drinks, watch the DVD, and take a swig every time Billie Joe either does the aforesaid 'whey-oh' thing, or shouts 'let's go fucking crazy!'/'get those hands in the air!' the prerequisite three bloody times per song. Trust me, you won't be able to stand up by the end of the DVD.

So Billie Joe's still reading from the same copy of 'hyping up stadium crowds for dummies', and the rest of the band pretty much look exactly the same as they did at the end of the American Idiot tour. And sound the same, too. So what's stopping you staying at home, sweeping the dust off your copy of Bullet in a Bible and saving a tenner? Well, keep reading, for there have been some changes.

Obviously, this being taken from the 21st Century Breakdown tour and everything, the setlist is geared towards that pile of mediocrity, but you'll be pleased to know that some quality control has occurred, and most of the excess baggage and bloated ballads have been trimmed to leave only the best bits. Things kick off on both the CD and DVD with the one-two hit of the title track and 'Know Your Enemy', and while the latter still sounds like what you'd get if you fed 'Clampdown' by The Clash through 'Generic Protest Rock Song v1.0' software, both have an added bit of bite and zip in a live environment. 'Viva La Gloria!' also appears on both discs, which is presumably why 'Letterbomb' was saved for the deluxe edition bonus tracks, and the two best songs on the album, 'The Static Age' and 'American Eulogy' both appear on the DVD, much to this author's delight, which means I can excuse the inclusion of puke-inducing '21 Guns'.

But as I said earlier, what really makes this package stand out are the rarities that have been dragged up from the history books for our listening pleasure. The tracklisting for Awesome As Fuck at times reads like a fan's mixtape, the sort you'd give to someone who's only experience of the band was a second-hand copy of International Superhits. For example, on the one hand, there's no 'Basket Case', no 'Longview', no 'Hitchin' a Ride', and the entirety of the Warning album may as well not exist. But on the other, we get more obscure album tracks, like 'Burnout', on both discs, as well as the criminally underrated 'J.A.R', first album blast 'Going to Pasalaqua', and the stunning 'Who Wrote Holden Caulifield', which Billie Joe reveals to be his favourite song from Kerplunk!, all on the C.D. Over on the DVD, they dig up their cover of The Who's 'My Generation' from the crypts of 1990, and the inclusion of 'Welcome to Paradise' makes this package worth buying on it's own from a personal standpoint.The trade-off with all these nods to the past and fan favourites is that the setlist on both discs feel unfocused, and they tend to meander around a bit, giving the impression that the band don't quite know what the play next. But while you could complain about this, or nit-pick about how certain songs have been glazed over (on that subject, I'm still waiting for 'Jaded', fellas), the fact that they've managed to trim down their 30-song+ live setlist into a relatively cohesive unit is an achievement, and I do admire the band's conscious attempt to sidestep the hits that everyone's heard a billion and one times before..

What also makes this package very strong are the band themselves. I can rag on them until I'm blue in the face about how repetitive and tedious Billie Joe's crowd-hyping tactics have become, but the fact remains that the band are consummate professionals and brilliant showmen who know how to put on a great show. Tre Cool remains one of the best drummers in the game, nailing the beats and rolls every single time, and even though Mike Dirnt's excellent bass skills have become marginalised in the studio over the last few years, he still gets ample chances to shine here. It's just a shame that Billie Joe's fixation with trying to be a cross between Freddie Mercury and Bono is often to the detriment of the songs.

For example, while the crowd-hyping methods already mentioned are never quite annoying enough to be deal-breakers, a couple of songs have both their kneecaps shot out by Billie Joe's desire to randomly run down the front and wank around with a guitar solo for a minute or two. These moments would veer dangerously close to pretentious twat territory on their own if it wasn't for the fact that they almost unfailing spoil the momentum of the song the rest of the band happened to be playing at the time. 'American Idiot' takes this particular kick to the bollocks just after the bridge, and '...Eulogy' is almost completely spoiled midway through Dirnt's second verse, exactly at the point where the song is supposed to be building towards the epic climax, not sitting around twiddling it's thumbs while the frontman farts around. It'd be like interrupting the climax of Reservoir Dogs to show Mr Pink discussing tooth-brushing techniques for half an hour. It's not even like he's a particularly good improv guitarist, with one of the solos descending into blind noise. Here's a basic rule of thumb - trying to awkwardly ram a solo into the middle of a song will more than likely make you look like a wanker, so don't bother, unless your name happens to be Josh Homme.

There are places on the DVD where the band themselves look and sound a little flat, and not quite as sparky as they were on Bullet in a Bible. This isn't helped by the sound mix on the DVD, which suffocates the guitars and makes the whole thing sound like the band are playing at the Camden Underworld rather than an epic arena. Thankfully, the mix on the CD is very good, with all instruments well-balanced and muscular. The whole digi-screen backdrop to their set (another nab from U2) is also redundant at best, and is only used to show some random graphics, or a cliched quote/clip from the news, or something like that. For me, the best bits of the DVD were when the band seemed to deviate from the predictable and veer off-script, like when additional member Jason Freese thought that what 'The Static Age' was missing was a wailing saxophone solo over the bridge and final chorus, or when Billie Joe grabbed a ski mask from a guy in the crowd, put it on and kept playing, all without missing a beat.

A bit of flash and unpredictability is something largely missing from both the discs, but overall, none of the criticisms I've made should be enough to put you off buying Awesome As Fuck. I seem to be the only one who gets pissed off by the crowd-hyping shenanigans, and as I've already said, the array of hidden gems across the tracklistings are a nice surprise, and they set the discs apart from most live records by big bands. If you're a new fan who just heard Basket Case on the radio and want a starting point, go find Bullet in a Bible first, but if you're a long-time fan, sticking with them whether you liked the epic turns of the 2000s or not, then Awesome as Fuck is, while not a classic, still a fine addition to the canon, and one I'd recommend.

Label: Reprise Records
Release Date:
22nd March 2011
Standout Tracks:
CD - 'J.A.R', 'Who Wrote Holden Caulifield?', 'Cigarettes and Valentines'. DVD - 'Know Your Enemy', 'Welcome to Paradise', 'Jesus of Surburbia'.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Live: A Boy Named Girl, My Third Leg & Captain Bastard and the Scallywags - Crush, Dartford 16/3/11

Dartford. Hardly a hotbed of ace punk rock gigs, is it? Or indeed, a hotbed of much at all, except for shopping centres and old biddies who use their shopping trolleys and mobility scooters as offensive weapons against anything that looks at them funny (which is generally everyone else). But tonight is a spirited attempt to change that, with a lineup of three strong bands from the Kent scene ready to bring rock 'n' roll to the dancefloor of the Crush bar tonight, instead of dubstep and perhaps chlamydia.

After the usual bout of confused looks from the bewildered soundman, a few shrugs of shoulders and shouts of 'fuck it, let's just play', Captain Bastard and the Scallywags (76%) kick off proceedings on the neon-pink dancefloor. Tonight is the start of three dates for the ascending folk-punk crew, and they set down a strong marker for the rest of the tour. It's the usual mix of fun and piratey shenanigans from the gang, with singer Andrew Keech leading his merry men on a romp through the pages of folk-punk tradition, ably accompanied by his vocal lieutenants, mandolinist Jordan Harris and acoustic guitarist Tom Garderner. Actually, that's a bit of a misnomer, as this is folk-punk we're talking about, so you could legitimately claim that everyone in the band and in the crowd are backing vocalists for those big choruses. Speaking of which, they have plenty of those in store for you, and some of them are attached to great songs too. Standard opener 'Along Came A Spider''s stomping beats and hard-edged riffs never cease to entertain, as do the wonderfully uplifting backing vox and catchy hooks that permeate 'Getting Out Of This Town'. Drummer 'Miami' Keith Sargent drives everything forward with the usual frenzied, foaming-at-the-mouth drumming, and whilst the execution still isn't always perfect, the group as a whole are definitely growing in stature with each show. A solid and heartily enjoyable performance to kick-start proceedings, then - a job well done, me hearties. Or something.

Next up in the triumvirate comes the band who seem to crop up more regularly on this website than bags of white powder at Charlie Sheen's house, My Third Leg (78%). I've honestly lost count of the amount of times I've seen Gravesend's finest in the last few months, but the fact that it's never gotten boring must mean that they're doing something right. And in fact, there is something a little different about them tonight, and I'm not just talking about guitarist Mike Smith's new guitar and hairstyle either. In fact, this new guitar has brought about a few changes in Smith's playing, and while it sometimes gets clogged in the sound mix, it's notable that there's a bit more meat around the bones of his riffs and rhythm chords. Some things never change, though - elder brother Paul is still as lovably chaotic behind the kit as ever, pulling the usual mix of gurning facial expressions and desperate attempts at drums rolls, and bassist Dave Ja Vu is still forgetting to take his Ritalin medication before each show, bouncing around and grinning like an idiot throughout. Their songs are slowly growing in stature along with the band, and anthems like '3470 Miles', 'Balls Deep' and the timelessly excellent 'Going for A Drive' are unleashed to the enjoyment of the crowd. Reliably enjoyable as always, then - you know exactly what you're going to get with these blokes, and no matter how many times you see it, it'll always be damn good fun.

Wait, is that the time already? The evening feels like it's flown by, but we have an appropriate headliner to bring things to a catchy and hook-laden conclusion - it's the hometown heroes themselves, A Boy Named Girl (84%). It's not that big a secret that, for a while, I wasn't the biggest fan of this group, but since my Lazarus-style reversal of opinion last October in Deal, I've been struggling to work out why it took me so long to realise what a genuinely great group these fellas are. Songs like 'Ill Be Fine (When I Forget You)', 'Night Life Story' and 'My Best Mistake' are outrageously catchy slices of pop-punk, and not only do the five-piece have an armoury of such tunes already built up, but they also have a live show that nails them to a T - relentlessly tight execution allied to the requisite amounts of energy and youthful bluster. All the above is on display tonight, as well as their usual tongue-in-cheek cover of Sisqo's 'Thong Song', which is nothing short of impishly fun. What's interesting, though, are the few new songs on display, which show that the band are maturing and taking a new direction into slower, ballad-driven radio rock...had you going for a second, didn't I? No, the newer tracks' only concession to progress is to ramp up the hooks and melodies even more so, if that was even possible, and there's one song in particular that I've yet to learn the name of who's riffs still refuse to leave my head even now, and probably won't until I conduct experimental brain surgery with a pair of tweezers. Great fun.

A lineup strong enough to survive the late departure of one of the bands and still be a classic is truly a night that doesn't fuck around in terms of enjoyment levels, and tonight was probably the most amount of fun I've had in Dartford for bloody ages. A good variety of bands, all with various prefixes you could attach to the word 'punk', and all with unique charm and character that when combined together on nights like this results in a entertaining and sweaty Wednesday night out.

Captain Bastard and the Scallywags - The Racing Legend E.P.

Irish folk-punk sounds like an utterly retarded genre on paper. On the one hand, copious amounts of Guinness and lots of drunken acoustic singalongs with bizarre instruments, all about the devil and sometimes leprechauns, and on the other, frenetic anti-establishment electric guitars singing about sticking it to the man. Or perhaps masturbation. Anyway, my point is, it's hard to see on paper where the crossover would be, but in practice, it results in one of the most outrageously fun and unique musical genres you can ever experience. Which is why it's a shame that there aren't that many bands ploughing this furrow; I guess digging around for the necessary assortment of mandolins, accordions, violins, harpsichords and triangles is too much effort when you can just sling a couple of guitars and a bass together and call it job done, but the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly have both proven the amount of riotous fun one can have when this pick 'n' mix of instruments is unified together for the greater cause of getting bladdered and shouting yourself hoarse.

Enter Captain Bastard and the Scallywags, an assorted band of misfits and punkers who swore allegiance to this new life of Guinness, crammed stages, bemused soundmen and bellowed backing vocals late last year. After a clunky start, with timing and drumming issues that made Paul Smith look like Dave Grohl, the group quickly settled in as a unit, and having gotten a decent raft of gigs annoying punters all over Kent under their belts, we arrive now at their first recorded output: The Racing Legend E.P.

It's always difficult reviewing a band's recorded output having already seen and heard the songs in a live setting, and nowhere is that more true than here. All four tracks are originals and staples of their live show, and translating that onto record whilst retaining the chaotic energy of a live show performance was always going to be a tough ask, particularly with the production quality being relatively low-res at best. The mix does a good job of balancing the acoustic instruments, but this comes at the expense of proper electric guitars - on the few moments you do actually catch snatches of guitarist Lucas Razell's riffing, it sounds like he's plugged into a Fisher Price My First Guitar Amp by mistake, which is a shame, as this is a vital component to Captain Bastard's music. Still, I'm not going to hold it against them, and they won't loose points for it; placed in comparative terms to most big bands, their recording budget amounts to about 50p, a Cadburys Cream Egg and a packet of used condoms, and the clarity of the various acoustic instruments mean that the lack of electric meat is never a deal-breaker.

What it does mean, though, is that the songs have to stand up on their own merits, and unlike big shiny bands with their big shiny mixing desks and copies of Pro-Tools, any weaknesses cannot hide behind glossy production - they have to stand up to the raw scrutiny of my ears. And on that front, the Captain and his Scallywags are looking very strong indeed. In an ideal world, 'Getting Out of This Town' would be a radio hit, with it's outrageously catchy backing vocal lines at the chorus and deft pennywhistle melodies from Kayla Harlow throughout the song, as well as a really strong vocal performance from singer Andrew Keech. The lyrics overall are impressive, and seeing as they mostly get lost in the carnage live, it makes a change to actually be able to hear what Keech and co are singing about. Harlow is probably the unsung heroine of the piece, given a free role to float over the riffs and crop up where she likes, and she embraces it nicely.

With the electric guitar suffering from malnutrition, Tom Gardener's jangling acoustic guitar chords carry each song forward, with Jordan Harris' choppy and nicely woven mandolin playing augmenting the Captain's assault. Nowhere is this more evident than band anthem 'Along Came A Spider', which kicks off the E.P. in rifftastic, gung-ho style. Gardener and Harris are responsible for most of the backing vocals on show, and they succeed in elevating the choruses to shouty singalongs full of emphatic, uplifting power, particularly on '...This Town' and 'Nine Layers of Hell', which contains chorus harmonies to make Brett Gurewitz nod approvingly. Bill Gower's bass playing is unfussy and tidy, which contrasts with the drumming of Keith Sargeant, haphazard as ever, teetering as it does right on the edge of disaster. Accordionist Ben Gower provides melodic backup to the stringed instruments, and it works to add to the Celtic vibes permeating throughout like someone spilt a pint of Guinness on the disc.

It's scratchy and rough around the edges, and about as slick as a pile of broken glass on a gravel driveway - I swear one song is shorn of an entire verse/chorus cycle - but more importantly, it's fast, frenetic, and most of all, fun. All four tracks are strong, and the consistency is admirable. The main point of short EPs are to showcase the potential promise that may or may not lay in wait for the future, and on this evidence, Captain Bastard and his Scallywags have a voyage of fun and beer-swilling to look forward to, and I'll enjoy watching and listening to the results.

Rating: 81%

Standout Tracks:
'Along Came A Spider', 'Getting Out Of This Town'.

Record Label:

Release Date:
March 16th, 2011

Captain Bastard and the Scallywags on Facebook.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Rise Against - Endgame

It'd be difficult to describe fully my admiration for Rise Against in one review without boring you to dribbling rigamortis, so I'll just say this: if I could organise the lineup for Reading festival this year, I'd order the NME tent to be burnt to the ground, pray to a god I've never believed in to resurrect Joe Strummer and the various dead members of the Ramones, and have Rise Against as headliners, along with Bad Religion and Green Day. Revolutions Per Minute is one of my all-time favourite records, with The Sufferer and the Witness following close behind and Siren Song of the Counter Culture garnering honourable mention status. Oh, and they're also responsible for the best gig I've been to in my humble life thus far.

Which is why I probably felt a bit at odds with their last release, Appeal to Reason. Yeah, it had some great moments, but they were buried amongst directionless, mid-tempo middlers, songs that trudged and dragged their feet through dingy mud and never really got out of second gear. It had the mark of a band groping around in the dark for inspiration, sometimes coming up with gold, and mostly just coming up with dross. For anyone else, it would have been great, but the fact that it had Rise Against's name on it sort of made the whole affair a bit underwhelming.

So like a disillusioned spouse, I made my excuses and left; it's just not as fun any more, Rise Against, I hope you understand, it's not your fault, it's mine, etc. And when Endgame was first announced, I was adamant. I've moved on now, it won't be the same, I won't be taken back.

Then I heard the two preview songs. Okay, maybe there is a way we can give it another try. And then came today, and my first listen of the full album. It took all of four tracks for my resistance to wane. Who the hell am I kidding? I was a fool to write them off. Just as one swallow does not a summer make, one below-par record does not a mediocre band make.

In fact, the more I listen to Endgame, the more it feels like this record was the natural follow-up to The Sufferer..., and that Appeal to Reason was just part of a set of drafts and design documents that have now been collaborated together to form the final piece I have blasting out of my headphones as I type. It's more focused, for a start - every track burns and crackles with a single, unified purpose, which means that even the weaker tracks fit into place, rather than feel like awkwardly-positioned filler tacked on to boost the running time. And whilst it isn't a concept album per se, it ebbs and flows as one cohesive piece of work in the same way a concept album would.

Frontman and band leader Tim McIlrath seems to have a greater grasp on what exactly he wants to do, and who the targets of his ire are. Rather than ticking from a generic 'protest rock lyrics' checklist, as he did on the last record, he's gone away and taken notes from one of his heroes, Bad Religion's Greg Graffin. And while you won't need to break out the Advanced Oxford Thesaurus to work out what the fuck he's on about, there is noticeably more powerful wordplays this time around, inspired by some heavy real-world events that have added further fuel to his ever-burning fire. And this added dimension also flows into the songwriting, where guitarist Zach Blair has made himself at home and isn't afraid now to rummage around in the tool shed for some new tricks to bring to the table. 'Midnight Hands' rides on the back of a psuedo-metalcore riff, 'Broken Mirrors' stomps and rolls unlike anything we've quite heard before in the Rise Against repertoire, and listen out at the mid-point of the excellent 'Satellite' for some nice harmonised flourishes behind the vocals.

Speaking of the songs, you remember a few paragraphs ago I said how it took all of four tracks for me to be hooked on this record? Well, that's because track four, 'Disparity by Design', is probably one of the best pieces of pure, flat-out punk rock Rise Against have written in nearly five years. Anybody who idly accuses them of being some glorified radio rock band, like a less Canadian version of Nickelback, needs to have this blasted loud into their craniums on repeat until they realise that they're talking out of their punk credibility arse. 'Architects' isn't quite as gutsy an opening track as previous efforts, but I guarantee the hairs will shiver on one's neck the first time you hear the galloping verse drums cascade down into the outrageously anthemic chorus, and McIlrath cheekily takes Against Me! to task at the bridge with the lines 'Don't you remember when you were young?/And you wanted to set the world on fire?/'Cause I still am/And I still do.' Lead-off single 'Help is On The Way' is probably the least interesting song on the album, but the Hurricane Katrina-inspired lyrics still pack a formidable punch, and 'Make It Stop (September's Children)' pulls no punches as it deals with a recent spate of teenage suicides related to homophobia and bullying, a topic that only gets more tragic and gut-wrenching when Tim reads out the names and ages of the kids in question over the haunting outro. So we'll forget where it was you found that shimmering intro guitar effect, eh, fellas - somewhere on the boulevard of broken dreams, wasn't it?

On that point, for all these positives, Endgame is nowhere near The Empire Strikes First perfection, so there are one or two gripes. Here's a recurring scenario, for starters - oh, that's the second chorus done, I wonder what will come next? Oh, shit the bed, a different tempo breakdown! Who'd have guessed that?! Fellas, we know that this is quite a novel idea to you, and you've been mucking around with it for a while, but do you really have to pad out every SINGLE song with this trick? It gets wearily predictable very quickly, and it means every song clocks in at around four minutes - if the songwriting wasn't so stellar this time around, it would turn very quickly into a grind through the same song structure repeated ad nauseum. Also, the finale of the album is a bit of a let-down; it's as if they were midway through recording the title track, then suddenly realised they didn't have a song that felt climatic enough to end the album on, so they clunkily rammed an out-of-place, epic outro onto the end of the song. However, any points they loose for the above criticisms are won back for the fact that they've finally given up trying to write 'Swing Life Away Part II' - it's taken them a few albums, but I think they've finally gotten the message.

In fact, you can forgive most of these criticisms anyway, as overall, Endgame is a strong and gutsy record full of anthems, rousing calls-to-arms, and power-packed riffs aplenty. No, it isn't Revolutions Per Minute, but it's not trying to be either, and in a way it stands on it's own as a proud indictment of where Rise Against are right now. If that bothers you enough to start blethering on about how 'mainstream' and 'radio-friendly' they've apparently become, then save yourself the effort and go back to your copy of The Unraveling, because Rise Against couldn't give two shits about regressional steps backwards to appease hardcore fans, and they care even less about you. This is the Rise Against of 2011, not 2003, and while the sound is a bit more refined, the righteous fury remains the same.


Standout Tracks:
'Architects', 'Disparity by Design', 'Satellite'.

Label: DGC/Interscope Records

Release Date: March 15th, 2011

Friday, 11 March 2011

Random Hand - 'Seething Is Believing' Album Preview

So, at last, Random Hand's long-awaited 'Seething Is Believing' is ready for launch - well, it will be in ten days, anyway. With one song already handed out generously as a free download and another breaking cover with a fancy music video attached, now mightn't be a bad time to have a preview look at the upcoming opus before it's release on the 21st March.

The first impressions are good. The two tracks revealed thus far show differing ends of Random Hand's musical spectrum, and their ability to mix balls-out aggression with as much melody and hook potential as they see fit. You'll be pleased to know that the band haven't 'matured' and decided to start adding string sections and jazz time signatures just yet, particularly not vocalist Robin Leitch, who still sounds like he swallowed a handful of broken driveway tarmac and industrial-strength sandpaper before recording his vocals. The familiar rough-edged burr permeates the verses of free download 'Find What's Out There', and an unbridled bellow snaps through the guitar histrionics come chorus time with as much snarl and zeal as they always did. Conversely, his manic exchanging of 'Heys!' with guitarist Matt Crosher in the verses of video track 'Bones' contrasts nicely with the anthemic soul of the chorus vocal lines, helped as always by his fellow bandmates' harmonised backing vox.

Crosher approaches his guitar playing with the same glee that a small child approaches stamping on his brother's sand castle, with all manner of tricks being dragged out of the toybox for '...Out There', including quasi-metal atmospheric licks, clever bursts of harmonics and whale-blubber-thick powerchords raining down all over the bridge. Much like the similarly multi-talented Ian D'Sa of Billy Talent, Crosher has the unique ability to play one guitar and make it sound more interesting and powerful than many bands with two guitarists can manage. The unsung hero of the piece is bassist Joe Tilston, who's basslines rumble purposefully underneath the whirling dervish guitars and lock into drummer Sean Howe's pounding beats to form a foundation so sturdy that, if it were a house, it would've survived the earthquake in Japan without even breaking sweat.

All of the above sounds eerily familiar in relation to Random Hand, and that's because it is; if the two tracks described above are indicative of the overall tone of the album, there is perhaps a danger that it will feel like 'Inhale/Exhale 2.0'. But if it is a direct expansion pack of their last record, then it'll one where every little constituent piece of the Random Hand jigsaw puzzle has been improved; sticking with the formula they have crafted and polishing it to a mirror shine. And I respect that; having worked their collective nards off to forge an imaginative and powerhouse sound unique to themselves alone, tossing all that in a skip and trying to do something else for innovation's sake would be a pointless gamble to take, not when the sound they have right now is so thunderously enjoyable.

They have the talent to mesh melody and raw fury together in differing levels consistently across 10-12 tracks, and 'Seething is Believing' is looking, from the evidence we've seen so far, to be another barnstormer that will carry on from where 'Inhale/Exhale' left off as if the last three years or so never even happened. Bring it on.

Oh, and y'know that video to 'Bones' I mentioned earlier? Here it is, courtesy of Warped Noise. Enjoy.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Live: The Submission w/ Melchett - The Beer Cart Arms, Canterbury 3/3/11

Under normal circumstances, it would take something pretty special to get me to spend an hour and a half on various trains and cold platforms heading down to a pub in a quaint old town in the middle of Kent on a weeknight. That, or a mild case of solvent sniffing. Not that the Beer Cart Arms isn't a nice venue - it's a pleasantly spacious and atmospheric pub in the quaint town centre of Canterbury, certainly. But a midweek gig with a journey time like that? Well, it just so happens that tonight is one such special event: the return of one of my favourite bands in the local scene to action after a lengthy hiatus. The weight of expectation is hanging in the air like tense fag smoke. Don't call it a comeback? Well, what else can I call it? After four months or more of inactivity and a lineup reshuffle, it's hard to really know what to expect tonight. It could be a flaming, embarrassing disaster on a par with letting off an eggy fart in a crowded elevator, or a glorious success that makes Elvis Presley's '68 comeback special pale in comparison. Time to find out.

But before all that can take place, three dodgy-looking blokes step onto the stage, exchange knowing grins and dive headlong into a set of hook-infested hardcore punk shenanigans. "So this is Melchett (76%), then?" I say to Captain Bastard and the Scallywags frontman Andrew Keech, who is there along with several other members. "Yeah. Basically, they're like Snuff" comes the reply. And simplistic as it is, he's got it just about spot on, as the hometown boys proceed to rocket through their repertoire of chaotically fast melodic hardcore punk. Snuff, as well as perhaps some early NOFX genetically spliced in with a bit of Dillinger Four just about covers Melchett's sound, and it's a very entertaining sound too, delivered with plenty of energy. The drumming in particular is tremendous, and puts me in mind of Brandon Barnes of Rise Against - deceptively (to look at at least) powerful and precise. In between songs, banter is rife, and often the audience dictates what song will be played next; what, you thought they had organised their own setlist and stuff like that? Don't be so bloody ridiculous! There's plenty of gooning around and we-don't-have-a-bloody-clue-what-we're-doing banter, as well as some technical cock-ups, but it's all taken in good humour, and this shouldn't overshadow the fact that their songs are actually very strong. It's up to the band now whether they go on to fulfill that promise, and I look forward to seeing them again, whenever they may be.

So here's the news, then: The Submission (88%) are back, and frankly, I have no idea what the bloody hell I was getting so worried about earlier. In fact, such worries are brutally kerb-stomped to death within seconds of the thumping 'Number One Sensation' crashing into life to ignite the start of the set. Frontman Richard Harris expunges several months' worth of frustration within the first five minutes, flailing, jerking, thrashing and bellowing madly into his microphone with a ruthless, steely determination in his eyes. His delivery is explosive, his words evocative, his rage focused - just like old times, then. I guess some things never change, right?

But really, you've heard me raving on many times before about Mr Harris' stage persona - him going nuts on stage is about as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning, after all - so instead, let's focus on what has changed since we last saw Deal's finest. Well, the obvious place to start would be with the new boy, drummer Matt Browne, who in his first live performance with the band, simply tries as best he can to suppress the inevitable nerves and just keep up with the others, which is an achievement in itself when you think about it. To his credit, blink and you'd miss the two or three slip-ups he does make, but what's more important is that he really does find his groove on several songs, and we get a glimpse of the destructive power he has the potential to unleash when he really gets going. It only appears in fits and starts tonight, but give him a little while to bed in to life in The Submission and this may well become the norm, which is a real shot in the arm for the band's future prospects.

The other big difference is that the band have downsized to a simple power trio template, with no rhythm guitarist, and this has more of an effect on the group than you might think. Obviously the versatility of being able to call on another guitar to keep the riffs going whilst Rich goes all rock god and unleashes wailing solos is missed tonight, particularly on the classic 'I'm Lazy'. But having said that, no songs are that much the worse off for it, and the trade-off is that bassist Sadie Williams is thrust more to the fore than ever before. She's effectively tasked with holding the songs together on a tight leash all on her own, a responsibility she handles effortlessly and confidently; not that she ever had a problem with holding things together before, of course. It's noticeable that she has more of a spring in her step - perhaps she trod on the same mains electricity cable that Rich obviously had inserted up his arse earlier, because there's more carefree jumping around than previous shows, and her backing vocals are much more audible, serving to beef out the already muscular tunes on display. Alongside Rich's lunatic spazzings of energy, she is even more assured and comfortable than ever onstage.

Oh yeah, the songs themselves. It's not unfair to say that the setlist has a hybrid feel about it, with Matt still yet to learn the entirety of the 'Mission's vast back catalogue. Nevertheless, there are still old favourites to enjoy: 'I'm Lazy', 'Reggae Rock Rebel' and 'You Just Don't Know' are as catchy and addictive as ever. 'No Man's Land' gets a rare airing tonight, and their cover of The Clash's 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go' (dedicated to Captain Bastard himself, Tom Gardener) ends the set in stomping style. But really, it's the two brand new songs that steal the show. '...Sensation' is a brave but inspired choice to start the set, and it's gung-ho riffing drives the entire song forward. Both that and 'Sunkissed Paradise' show a marked evolution - they sidestep four-chord hooks for big, battering riffs full of muscle and melody, with evocative, snarling lyrics. Big targets are in their firing line now, and they're no longer restricting themselves to singing about not having a job or being a lazy tosser; not when they can take bold swipes at topics such as the troubles in the Middle East and beyond.

It's this limitless ambition and belief in their own abilities that gives an exciting signpost as to where The Submission will go next, but really, worrying about the future is for another day. Tonight, in the here and now, they successfully bury the months of frustration and dead-ends and re-ignite themselves as a force, and with the new drummer still bedding in and further songs and gigs in the pipeline, it's onwards and upwards from here. Welcome back, The Submission - we've missed having you around.

Headliner's Setlist:
  1. Number One Sensation
  2. Reggae Rock Rebel
  3. I'm Lazy
  4. Johnny Be Goode (Chuck Berry cover)
  5. Sunkissed Paradise
  6. No Mans Land
  7. What If I Give Up
  8. You Just Don't Know
  9. Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash cover)