Thursday, 5 May 2011

Live: The Submission w/guests - The Beer Cart Arms, Canterbury 3/4/11

Overpriced train tickets for a lengthy train journey into the heartlands of Kent for a show in a quaint pub in Canterbury involving a set by a punk rock band from Deal? Talk about a stonking case of deja vu. As homes away from home go for a band, The Beer Cart Arms isn't a bad place to set up shop at; indeed, this was the venue in which The Submission made their return from exile to the live circuit. Their much-vanted comeback is still gathering pace, although it stuttered slightly in Gravesend a month or so ago, so tonight wouldn't be a bad night to see how that things are progressing. Oh, and they're introducing a new member tonight. Who plays Hammond organ. Intrigued? My eyebrow didn't so much raise as fly off into the sky when I first heard the idea, so this show is worth checking out for curiosity value alone.

Before then, though, we have two relatively un-punk support bands to tide us over. Things get started with alt-rockers Left of the Right Side (68%) who are on the verge of leaving a great first impression on this reviewer - right up until the vocalist Rich (no, not that one) starts singing/screaming/choking on a dead insect. Or maybe the choking and screaming were actually the same thing? My mistake. Suffice to say, the vocals are not a strong point - clunky, forced, and as subtle and well-placed as a chainsaw in a knitting convention, and whilst they aren't totally terrible, a bit of restraint may not go amiss - too many times inadequate splurges of screamo get splattered over the music when it would've paid to just shut up for a few seconds. It's a shame that they are hamstrung in this way, because it detracts from the music. And in this area, the band are strong. It's often the case that bands with one guitarist often have more flair and creativity to their guitar playing then bands with twice as many six-stringers, and that's definitely the case with Shaun. He flits from spidery leads and imaginative spirals and crackles of notes in the verses and bridges to the prerequisite big crunching chords at the choruses with reckless abandon, with the rest of the band following suit. Overall, the band are a bit hit-and-miss - whilst the creative guitar riffs are often well-placed and welcome, the vocals, as already discussed, are not, and some songs get tugged down by their own ambition. However, having so much ambition that it sometimes chokes the songs is preferable to having none at all, and their prog-pop-rock mix has the potential to be something hitherto unheard of around these parts. Stick at it, fellas - with a bit of tinkering (and maybe a bit less screaming), you've got the potential to move up the gears and become a strong band to be admired.

Which is more than can be said for our next band, We Cry Hero (24%). It constantly amazes me just how richly rewarded mediocrity is in the general music scene currently, with vacuous tripe infesting the charts and radio stations. Who are this invisible majority constantly putting God-awful crap like The Vaccines at the top of the charts and catapulting them to stardom? Well whoever you are, I hope you're proud; this is the sort of garbage you've created. A band whom think it's acceptable to have a singer doing an atrocious Patrick Stump/Caleb Followill vocal impression and intentionally having the stage presence of a Gerry Anderson puppet of Peter Crouch. Or to have a guitarist (with a white Telecaster up round his shoulders, natch) ironically wearing kiddies socks and neon yellow plastic sunglasses, whilst intentionally standing around looking bored. Or to infest our ears with a set full of mediocre wannabe-epic musical earnesty, then unironically throw in a Justin Timberlake cover. Or to have horribly out-of-place Hellogoodbye keyboards and knock-off U2 guitar lines pollute every song whilst shunning the bass and drums to make room for the frontman's self-inflated fucking ego. This is a band riding the shirttails of the very worst excesses of modern rock 'n' roll music - hipster fashions and behavior, unfulfilled ambitions of epicness, mediocre lyrics that manage to be both arrogant, cloying and pathetically earnest at the same time, awkward clashes of generic indie guitars, beige pianos and turgid electonica, aloofness disguised under the paper-thin veneer of irony - all mixed into one horrible gelatinous mass. They're not the worst band I've ever seen; Dr Goon still take that coveted award. But they were a pile of rotten giblets and tube station toilet runoff with comically awful musical quality. At least WCH can fucking play their instruments. And they're not quite as bad as Brokencyde, a band so unbelievably atrocious as to lead you to question your faith in humanity. What they are, though, is an indictment of rock music of this era - bland, uninspiring dross with no depth, imagination, spark or creativity, just happy to wallow in it's own mediocrity, content in the knowledge that that will be enough to elevate them to popularity. The last time popular rock 'n' roll music got this bad was the fag-end of the 1970s, and that time, punk rock was the explosive counter-blast that formed as a result. Fucking hell, do we need something similar now. There's plenty of bands around in the scene who could lead the charge - who fancies taking the mantle?

If we're talking specifically about a punk rock revival to kick mainstream rock squarely in the bollocks, The Submission (86%) would likely be one of the bands at the forefront of the rebellion. They start their set with something of an ambush - newie 'Sunkissed Paradise' catches everyone by surprise when it suddenly snarls into life, but from there on it's full steam ahead as frontman Richard Harris once again leads the troops into battle. The last time I saw the trio was back in Gravesend, and I speculated there that perhaps they were struggling to recapture some of the magic of old, and while tonight still isn't quite as stellar as previous classic 'Mission nights of yore, it's definitely a step in the right direction as they turn in a spirited performance. Drummer Matt Browne is continuing his baptism of fire, and tonight he is reliable if unspectacular behind the kit. Some songs suffer a little from being just a half-beat too slow, and the intensity of the hits don't quite match the snarl of the songs. It's simply a case of fine-tuning, that's all; now that the songs are learnt and can be reeled off without a problem, perhaps now is the time to start hitting harder and faster to help bolster the attack. Anyone who can blast their way through the rocket-speed 'Revolution' without a hitch is clearly up to the task, and I'm sure this will come with time either way. Whilst I'm riding the nit-pick train, I still believe bassist Sadie Williams' backing vocals are a smidge too quiet in a live setting; the promise is there to add an extra dimension and trade off Rich's growlin' and howlin', but has not yet been taken fully. None of the above points are really deal-breakers, and when you have songs as strong as 'I'm Lazy', 'Stay in Action' and 'You Just Don't Know' up your sleeve, it's all rendered moot anyway. Sadie's still comfortably out on her own as one of the very best bassists in the scene, and it's frightening how Rich can be so boundlessly energetic and passionate on such a consistent basis. The usual electric leg-stomps, head-spins, guitar-swings, searing solos, and spastic jerks and flails are all present and correct, and he still remains an example to all up-and-coming rock 'n' roll bands as to exactly how to be a rock 'n' roll frontman.

Well, we've waited long enough, so here comes the big selling point for tonight - the addition of Sadie's father Cliff onto a spectacular Hammond organ at stage right midway throughout the set. I have to be honest, I had absolutely no idea how the bubbling warmth of an organ would fit with the firestorm guitar riffs, but I'm happy to once again say my cynicism was ill-founded, as it normally is. In the same way Simon Beck's classical Wurlitzer piano bursts add a sprinkling of refinement to The Skanx's sound, Cliff's classy organ riffs flow effortlessly into the mix and bring something hitherto unheard of to the party without blunting the trademark razor edge. Not only does it bolster already existing anthems, with 'Reggae Rock Rebels' probably being the biggest beneficiary, but it opens the path up for experimentation, and we get a glimpse of that when the band roll into an impromptu jam of Little Richard's 'Long Tail Sally' with gleeful grins on faces. Its in these four minutes or so that the band seem to have the most fun they've had since returning to the circuit.

Perhaps this is what they've been missing? Possibly so, but it's heartening to see them genuinely enjoying themselves again, and whilst I was premature in declaring them back to their former glories, they're on the right track, and making steady progress. And when there's bands like We Cry Hero polluting the circuit like a wet fart in an elevator, bands like The Submission are needed more than ever.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Chapter Eleven - Death Is Far Away E.P. Preview


Can someone say 'spoiled for choice'? Acoustic punk two-pieces suddenly appear to be rather en vogue of late, or maybe I've just not been paying attention. Anyway, fresh off of reviewing the excellent Torn Out/Limited Means split E.P. comes news of another acoustic punk two-piece, this one forming out of the ashes of the sadly deceased Four Letter Cure. I may be wrong, but I might be able to legitimately claim that I was there for Chapter Eleven's debut show, back at the Comedy Pub in Piccadilly Circus last October. Whether you can call it an official debut is questionable - at the time, it was simply a stop-gap to fill the slots originally booked for Four Letter Cure, with their frontman Hassan Afaneh roping in his buddy Asher Baker, slinging acoustics round their necks and making the best of the situation. At this show, they mainly focused on hastily rehearsed FLC songs and covers (including a heroic but doomed attempt at Rise Against's 'Like The Angel'), but they closed their ramshackle set with an original, 'This Ship', a vitriolic polemic sung entirely by Asher denouncing an old friend whom has slid into the clutches of the BNP/EDL 'bloody foreign bastards' mentality. These four minutes or so were a glimpse to what was to come, and so, in the same way My Third Leg rose from the wreckage of The Constant G's, here Chapter Eleven was born.

One of the useful things about acoustic acts is that you can literally play anywhere you like, and that's exactly what C-11 have done; from pubs and bars in Kent and London to parks, beer gardens and friend's living rooms, you name it, C-11 have probably played there. And having linked up with Martin Savale of Asian Dub Foundation, no less, their debut recorded output is ready for release on Pornography for Cowards records in a matter of weeks. By way of a preview, the band have posted up two tracks to stream on their Bandcamp page, a link to which will be posted at the bottom of the page. One of the two tracks is actually the aforementioned 'This Ship', and it's good to know that my memory wasn't playing tricks on me - it's still as furious and impassioned as ever, wiith Asher delivering his low-key vocals through sharply gritted teeth. An ace card the band possesses over some of their peers are the dual vocals, and Asher's more subtle and soulful tones compliment Hassan's gravelly barks, and the two trade off vocals very effectively on the other preview track, 'Night Bus', where Hassan ends up doing his best Justin Sane impression in the verses to great effect. These neat vocal lines go hand-in-hand with unquestionably the band's greatest strength; excellent lyrics.

I actually read through the lyric sheets before listening to the tracks, and they're probably the best I've read all year, if in a long time. Swap the structure around a bit and these could easily stand on their own as pieces of literature, such is the strength of the prose on display. Both songs are strong on imagery, with '...Ship' describing how '
it really is a shame, they paved the ground we used to play/ And when you walk down past the skate park, you’ll see there’s no one there', and how the narrator 'can still remember all the games we used to talk about/ When that Chinese shop in Peckham sold you Final Fantasy' before decrying how 'since those days, we haven't spoken, and the TV says Britain's broken/ I guess I’ll never be the same, and I’ll say the same for you.' 'Night Bus' is even more starkly poetic, with the disallusioned youth theme reaching a zenith at the lines 'Can't help but feel like my life passed me by/ My friends and I made history tonight/ Society gave up on us this time/ But try as we might, we’re not ready for the sky'. To the many generic punk bands that exist nowadays; I hope you're busy taking notes on how exactly to write powerful and evocative lyrics, rather than a series of clich├ęd slogans held together with twigs and chewing gum spat from the mouth of a paranoid anarchist.

Musically, the band cannot quite match the strength of their words, although as already mentioned, their vocals are very good. Their biggest problem is the fact that their lyrics evoke a classic paradox with acoustic punk acts - whilst the fact that they are performed acoustic adds a special charm to them, lyrics with such emotional punch as this almost deserve a full electric backing. They have the opposite problem to many electric bands, who have the crashing drums and muscular riffs sorted but only end up producing 'Tomy's My First Protest Song' quality lyrics. However, they have expressed ambitions to potentially go electric in the future, so they already have the luxury of choice in place - will it be electric carnage or acoustic campfire soul tonight, sir? Also, the recent addition of a semi-permenant third member, Stuart Sim on bass, adds another dimension to the acoustic chords, with his neat and unfussy basslines running underneath the guitars like undersoil heating. All promising stuff, then, and I'll happily join the que of those waiting in anticipation for the full E.P. release.

Chapter Eleven on Facebook

Chapter Eleven's Bandcamp Page

Top photo by Dominic White.