Scholars/Lights Go Blue @ The Relentless Garage (Upstairs)
aaamusic | On 07, Aug 2010
London, 28th July
Have you ever gone to a gig and felt that the order the bands were on stage was more than a little unfair? There are some bands you watch the support act and think “well, yeah, fair do’s on that”, and sometimes you watch the support act and wonder why on earth they weren’t higher on the bill. And no, I am not being biased. Or at least, I hope not.
The first band up were Fearless Vampire Killers, a five-piece act who suffered all the usual indignities of the opening band: poor mixing, a crowd who largely do not know who they are, and most of all, the fact they are playing to a room on the wrong side of sparsely-populated. Despite some hiccups earlier in the set, such as instruments not being tuned properly and then not being loud enough, once they got going, by the last couple of songs they had got a few people moving with their punky pop metal sound featuring dual guitars and melodic vocals. I’ll have to say that their musicianship was patchy in places, not being quite as tight as it could be, but as they grew accustomed to the stage and the mixing problems were ironed out, they did improve. Their image too made them cut a more interesting figure on the stage, a uniform Victorian/Steampunk look, and their stage antics, while occasionally contrived, showed that they at least tried to give it some real effort despite being the opening act, and that alone is worth some kudos. Perhaps given a year they will be a genuinely interesting act to follow up.
Next up were Max Raptor. Now, this was the band I would have expected to be headlining. I saw them a year ago supporting Billy Talent, and their visceral, no-nonsense indie punk just blew me away. A year on, and I can safely say that their act has lost none of its energy, and if anything has become even more explosive. They opened with the lightning impact of ‘Gundogs’, and carried on from there, playing a set that was bursting with short, sharp shocks to the system, and practically no stage banter in between as they went straight from one song to the next. This is a band that mean business, and their business involves playing as much savage punk rock noise within their half an hour slot as is humanly possible. The instruments are preternaturally tight, even in the demanding stop-start riffs of ‘Conversations With Death’, and the hurtling solos, hooks and group vocals of ‘Ghosts’. The band didn’t even feel the need to rely on theatrics – although they did jump around on stage, as you do, it was all rather understated and natural, allowing the audience to pay more attention to the fact that despite their first impressions as a high-volume, high-adrenaline mob (which is no mean feat for a band with only four members) they are also capable of writing one hell of a good song full of hooks and a good handle on dynamics and rhythmic variation, such as the manic changes in the aforementioned ‘Conversations With Death’. The singer too was giving it all he had, even when it came to the fact that some songs go so fast he has to say an almost impossible amount of words in what seems to be one breath, and he was still able to give a powerful delivery of these breathless torrents of lyrics. Their pseudo-anthemic ‘Great And The Good’ made an appearance surprisingly late in the set, however this didn’t detract from its raw and catchy intensity. This is a charismatic and undeniably talented band just waiting for their inevitable big break.
The third band, Lights Go Blue, had a tough act to follow, and this quickly became a glaring problem. I’ll admit that I held an admiration for them insofar as there are two of them, and between them they have managed to put together a functional band. However, they felt out of place in what was otherwise a guitar rock bill, and stifled by their keyboard and synth duties, their show felt rather limp. And then a small disaster struck: a guitar string broke and so the drummer had to entertain the crowd with that awkward stand-up comedy/stage banter hybrid that he fortunately managed to keep just on the right side of cringeworthy as another guitar was bought out. Once again, they were an act that got better as the set progressed, their synth-drenched rave-rock getting a fair amount of people moving. However, it couldn’t rescue them from feeling tame compared to the preceding acts.
The final act co-headlining with Lights Go Blue were Scholars, who managed to rescue the proceedings from ending on a low. Bringing with them a live act and sound that is like The Strokes, The Maccabees, and possibly even hints of Fugazi all thrown together and shaken into a state of agitation, they gave it a valiant effort and this did not go unnoticed by the crowd, who despite remaining rather stationary, were far from bored. The melodies and riffs were satisfyingly unpretentious: punky enough with the simple driving basslines to keep the rockers from losing hope, and yet the rhythms and jangling guitar melodies were danceable enough to keep the indie pop crowd happy. However, once again their frontman, when not stalking the crowd looking ready to pounce on someone, was unfortunately hampered with instrumental duties on a comedically small keyboard. It was a shame that the audience were as immobile as they were, given that Scholars were attacking their own material as frantically as they dared. The set culminated in a moment of chaos where the band were practically their own onstage moshpit while rattling off a squalling collection of distorted riffs.
In closing, I am all for musically diverse nights out, but sometimes the diversity veers too close to disagreement for it to flow. However, that said, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable show, and I would recommend Max Raptor, and possibly Scholars, to anyone looking for modern Britrock with a real edge to it.
Author & Photos: Katie H-Halinski