Awolnation/To The Bones @ Camden Barfly
aaamusic | On 07, Aug 2010
London, 2nd August
When I first heard that this show had sold out, I was impressed. Then I turned up to the venue and realised selling out the Barfly is a bit like selling put your friend’s living room. However, venue size aside, selling the full capacity is generally a sign of some sort, and “of some sort” might be a good starting point for describing this show.
First up were Filthy Whisky, a band with a sound that whilst not quite complete, was entirely their own. Cutting an uneven image on stage, they kicked off with something approaching a modern rockabilly sound with a bass groove and smooth yet undeniably rock vocals from their singer. However, as the set progressed, they dipped into a style reminiscent of Talking Heads via pub rock, a funk-edged and refreshingly unpretentious series of songs displaying solid and competent musicianship. However the real surprise came at the end, where they launched gleefully into a cover of a hip-hop song, with heavy drumming and he singer demonstrating a rather good rapping ability.
Next up were Awolnation, who bought with them a distinctly American sound: surf-rock crossed with soul and decorated with electronic edges. Their frontman was a determined one, enticing the crowd forwards and dancing around the stage, fearlessly getting into his own music. This did much to get the crowd going themselves, and despite it being a sluggish Monday night audience, by the midpoint of the set many people were dancing. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on the pseudo-gospel act the band put on at times, but there was no denying that musically they are very good at what they do. And if the theatrics got overbearing at any point, their guitarist offered respite, as he was quietly pretending to be The Edge in the corner with some deftly-employed effects pedals and sturdy guitar playing, occasionally headbanging but never going any further. I warmed to the band in the last two songs, and I can’t help but feel that this might be a pacing issue with the set – their two loud and energetic songs that came closest to full-blooded rock songs came at the end. That said, when they did make an appearance, they made one hell of an appearance, with their last song ‘Burn It Down’ quite literally causing seismic tremors not only on stage but across the whole floor with its sheer sonic force. Although the pacing might have been a sticking point, the band proved that not only could they play a good song, but they could easily justify the context of being included on a rock bill. So the only gripe I could raise with them was the gratuitous use of backing tracks. These are generally used to fill in the gaps a band’s lineup. And so using tracks that include drums and guitars when you have perfectly competent examples of both feels a little uncomfortable, and this meant that the songs, particularly earlier on when they were using a more stylistically diverse sound, came across as a bit too crowded, and moments such as a reggae break in one song felt too compressed to deliver its potential. However I would say that as a live band, they proved their worth.
I am going to assume that To The Bones were the de facto headliners of the night; a status entirely deserved. Coming across as an abrasive Queens Of The Stone Age, they comprise of four men playing grunge-infused metal of the most psychopathic and twisted variety. Opening with an instrumental so distorted it entered the ears sideways, they then proceeded to rip into ‘Rex’, their recent single which builds with a sludged-up pop “oohwellawella” and some impressive hurtling drums before exploding into a mass of sound and unhinged yelps. Compared to Awolnation and even Filthy Whisky their stage presence was incredibly understated, simply relying on the toxic, visceral blasts of noise that they were creating as opposed to stage banter and dancing. However, this by no means writes them off as uncharismatic. They may climb on stage looking like your greasy-haired brother but they write songs that could give The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster plenty of reason to worry, and make QOTSA seriously reconsider their careers as To The Bones are heavier than either encased in concrete, and incredibly exciting. There was no holding back that night. Basses were slung round the knees and thumped out gravelly riffs, cymbals were pounded to within an inch of their lives, twin guitars wailed some mind-bogglingly catchy headbangers while just about avoiding spiralling away into metallic jams, and the vocals were an ominous growl with totally deadpan delivery and punctuated by vicious yowls accompanied by squalling guitar chords. And all this fed through what sounded like the mother of all distortion pedals. In the final song, their vocalist decided to vacate the stage in favour of terrorising the audience, plunging into them with his guitar and tearing apart the riffs in the massive empty space that had opened around him. To The Bones were truly the stars of that night, a jaw-dropping salvo of truly impressive songs that cut straight through the ennui of a Monday night, and indeed straight to the bones of a solid rock show.
The last band on were Boy On The Roof, and to be frank, I could find little to justify their being on the bill, let alone highest. Their music wasn’t so much unclassifiable as directionless as they meandered through an uninspiring set. Actually, they did have a redeeming feature: their bassist and drummer were both far above the level of the others on stage. This became painfully apparent in a ska break in one of their songs, where those two locked rhythmically and held together as the guitars simply fell apart. Kudos for the two for giving it their best shot, but the rest of the band need to seriously start pulling their weight.
Author & Photos: Katie H-Halinski