Steak Number Eight’s UK Tour
Promoter: Play It Again Sam Recordings
Date: Thursday 3rd May 2012
Venue: The Cellar, Southampton
Bands: Steak Number Eight, The Smoking Hearts, Idiom, Circle of Reason
Ten Volumes in and I’m still reviewing music. Has much changed? From the looks of things I’m geting a bit more critical, a bit more in depth and a bit less willing to accept mediocrity or the ordinary with what I see. How fitting then that my tenth review comes reviewing a band so far outfield that it’s hard to comprehend their insane view of music at so young an age. Slow down though, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s the whole evening to get through first.
With its odd shaped upstairs venue encompasing a staircase dangerously jutting in to the mix and a whole wall devoted to a raised platform running to the right of the stage The Cellar was a welcome change to my tried and teasted home ground of the encased box of the Railway. Once I’d got my bearings (and an extra fiver in my change for the ifrst pint – win) and my fill of the SOAD laden soundtrack the notes began to fade and the opening support stepped up to the raised stage behind the rails.
One thing became very clear as Circle of Reason took their instruments and that was the 14+ nature of the gig. A front row lined with Jailbait looked up at the band as they ran through their music bringing to mind elements of a slightly fiercer Nickelback or a very diluted Bullet For My Valentine. This was safe music; unassuming and largely radio-friendly rock with a couple of drop tuned track thrown in alongside vague flickers of harsh vocals (and that, in part, largely explained the relative age of the audience up front). I’m not a huge fan of this sort of stuff but what they did play, they played very well. While ordinarily I would’ve written these guys off straight away their lead guitarist (whose name seems to have escaped the internet) clearly had some flare as he took on the more complex melodies of the pieces effortlessly backed by equal precision on the bass. That said, with that exception there was a touch of a generic feel to what was being played here and I couldn’t help but feel bringing those complex melodies to the fore could probably help these guys to stand out more. I liked them, I just couldn’t bring myself to love them.
So with a lot of ears entrenched in safe and lovely rock music-land it was time for the suckerpunch from hell as the unbridled fireball of Idiom began their ferocious set. Combining a fierce hardcore bulldozer of sound with some seriously powerful riffage Idiom brought us back into the world of metal. Vocalist Matt Sharland was a one man fireworks display crossing the iron rail of the stage repeatedly to bring the noise straight to the audience, whether we wanted to come forward or not. The space was his to command and he took it by the leash in the same vein as some of the best frontmen out there. This was not just a one man effort though and Sharland was backed by the sonic bliss of truly brilliant hardcore laid down by headbanging guitarist Kris Gibbs, bassist Dan Harrison and seriously sharp drummer Grant Knight – even some funky interludes in the closing songs made sure the band didn’t restirct themselves by genre to much and, when the noise came back down, it was Sharland himself who threw me into th pit personally (along with some Baywatch style lifeguards….only at a metal gig!)
I had to have a serious sit down following Idiom as I nearly made the fatal mistake of moshing myself out before the headliners – a cardinal sin – but almost before I’d taken the first swig of my next cider The Smoking Hearts were limbering up to play the lead support set in preparation for the night’s Belgian headliners. I decided to take it easy through the first couple of tracks by the band and give myself a rest. I have to say, it took me those couple of songs to get into these guys. Like Idiom before them The Smoking Hearts embodied a spirit of hardcore with their sound but, whilst the former had embodied this through daring energy, the latter came out with sheer out and out power.
Each riff from guitarists Nobba and Barker was crushing, each bassline from goth-d up Calvin a slaughter and every time Matty slammed the drum it sent a shockwave. Singer Ben Mills brought to mind memories of Romeo Must Die or Cancer Bats and constantly trod the line of the stage whilst not daring to give that little extra push Idiom had accomplished earlier. If I can say anything against this band its that treading the line at that intensity for so long did leave the set feeling like it lacked variety – constantly full-frontal with little room to reflect or push further. Whilst technical difficulties slowed down the closing track it was worth waiting for, firstly because we were entertained with Metallified Queen and Blink 182 covers while we waited and also because the closer was where the glass ceiling shattered as every band member (except Matty) stepped over that line and took to the audience, the bar, the raised platforms (see, I did mention it for a reason) before LITERALLY jumping back onstage to end the set. If that’s not fucking metal, I don’t know what is.
If we ever needed something to embody the spirit of metal though, what was just around the corner would prove it to us. Doing things differently, being true to yourself, aggression, power, melody, intricacy, determination and sheer fucking grit – Steak Number Eight had been embodying all of these things on my iPod for the best part of a month leading up to this gig after their All Is Chaos album came free with Metal Hammer. I hoped desperately that I would not be let down by the band’s highly acclaimed live shows and trust me on this, I wasn’t. Backing their sonic assault of vaguely stoner-esque hard rock the band was backlit by flashing spotlights creating silhouettes and giving the impression of immensely powerful monoliths on the horizon. Alongside sparks and flashes of other lights washing the stage in a dazzling array of colours, this set ceased to be a gig and became a totally immersive experience. The music itself differed very little from what I’d heard on All is Chaos and the incredible ‘Dickhead’ and ‘Pyromaniac’ both sounded as mind bending and transcendental as they had through my headphones. The music washed over me and inhabited every pore of my body, soaking through until I was entirely at its mercy and taken away by wave after wave of sound and light madness.
Combining the mind-bending musicality of Mastodon with the sheer sense of spectacle associated with Tool the only thing that let these guys down was their audience, not wanting to join in or rock out on the same level as my hairy drunken arse was. Maybe they’re just not established enough in Britain to create the same buzz bands on the same level of talent can. The transition will be tough but with the backing of one serious music publication and a sound unlike anything I’ve heard before I’m sure they’ll make it and I will be fucking proud to be one of those arsehole hipsters standing there saying ‘I saw them back when they played tiny venues’.
Apologies in advance.
Circle of Reason: 6/10
The Smoking Hearts: 7/10
Steak Number Eight: 10/10
Mike Webster Presents…
Promoter: Mike Webster
Date: Saturday 7th January 2012
Venue: The Railway, Winchester
Bands: Near4saken, Jenna’s Revenge, Hancock, Crash Mansion, Lost Cause Cowboys
I should start this by contextualising how I felt going into this gig. Ordinarily Saturday gigs are a bit of a trek for me. I finish work at 5.30, come home, get some dinner and then head out to get to (usually) The Railway for around 8pm. This time around was much the same, except my body was running on 2 hours of sleep from the night before. I thought to myself I could not go but then I had a different thought. There are guys out there in their 60s who manage to rock the fuck out night after night on world tours and I’m sitting here, a guy who’s not long hit 21, thinking 1 day of work and a rough night’s sleep could stop me? Fuck that. If you’ve got an ounce of rock and roll spirit in you then live music is the polestar of life the universe and everything and skipping it or missing out for most of the bullshit busy, tired or too far away excuses is a huge pile of fucking crap. This doesn’t really have anything to do with the review, just some shit I wanted to get off my chest. On with the review.
It was a weird sensation standing in The Railway as Lost Cause Cowboys were setting up. I took a quick look around the room and realised that, with a few exceptions, I was the youngest person in the room…by some way. Ordinarily nowadays I’m a bit older than a lot of the crowd (in fact, sometimes the band too) but once the band began playing I started to get it. Less of a band and more of a collection of musicians entering and exiting the stage, Lost Cause Cowboys’ set was powered on by the southern bluesy drawl of frontman Rich and put me firmly in the mind of that quintessentially blues powerhouse that we know and love as Tom Waits. This music was old school and speaking as a firm metalhead I fucking loved it. When you think about it metal is the next step on from hard rock, it came from it, and if you keep going back hard rock goes to rock and roll, rock and roll goes to jazz and jazz goes to the blues – that awesomely soulful tune grooving its way from the history of New Orleans and finding itself in this little pub in Winchester.
As previously mentioned this gig dripped with the essence of Tom Waits and it turned out I was right on the mark as, just round the corner was a Waits cover which was nothing short of fucking awesome. Rich could quite easily have been an acoustic soloist with his talent but I’m glad he hadn’t taken that route as the band brought a richness and diversity to the sound almost impossible to achieve with one man and his guitar. Backing vocalist Jess has a voice which compliments and opposes Rich’s growl in a soulfully brilliant way and guitar/bassist Jonesy kept the groove coming with assurance and some quality playing. There were also two guys not listed on their myspace (one possibly by the name of Jay) one of whom played some epic south styled guitar solos in the finale and another who rocked the fuck out on the harmonica with an awesomeness that only the harmonica can bestow. Despite the beautiful understatedness of Lost Cause Cowboys these guys rocked, hard, and any misgivings I had about the possibilities of the acoustic genre were gone.
Also Rich wore a top hat. I don’t care who you are or waht you think, top hats are fucking awesome.
Second support Crash Mansion had some big shoes to fill following the opener and, I have to admit, when they arrived onstage I didn’t really want to like them. Vocalist Izzy Jackson and guitarist Sammy Scarlett had that sort of Motley Crue look about them that was really fucking edgy and awesome in the 80s and nowadays can be seen donned by the likes of Steel Panther as they knowingly mock some of the more outlandish aspect of the rock and metal scene. Conversely bassist LJ Hardwood and drummer Kitt looked like the sort of rockers more familiar to my side of the metal gene pool, down to earth and playing out of their garage, so this did add to my initial apprehension as I felt like I was looking at two seperate bands – the cocky show offs of a bygone age and the ‘I don’t give a fucks’ of metal’s new resurgence.
I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to the boys of Crash Mansion because I had a preconception which was not lived up to. It’s quite rare you come across a band as tight as these guys were with Scarlett’s fretwork so intense it was like the guy was on fire. All the cockiness which radiated from Scarlett and Jackson as they entered the stage was thoroughly earned. Not to say the rhythm section wasn’t without merit, whilst a little invisible in terms of stage prescence the bassist did keep the rhythm furious and the drummer was like a gift from the gods with his maelstrom of playing talent thundering the set along with flourishes of syncopated bliss.
So that was Crash Mansion, maybe a little cocky and glittery on the top but underneath there’s some real fucking gems in there.
I’d like to apologise in advance because I might get a little negative and divisive in this next bit because we’re talking about a punk band. Now punk, for me, is a pretty self defeating and limited genre. The patterns are simple and brash, it’s short, sharp and over before you can blink so room for innovation and individuality is limited. Back in the 70s and 80s when punk was the latest fuck you to the bourgeoisie the excitement from the genre tearing across the scene must have been palpable but, to me, not that many bands have found a way to move their style on from 30 or 40 years ago. I’m sorry to say third support Hancock were one of these bands. Guitar, bass and drums. Chord 1, chord 2, chord 3. Drumming Bm Tsch Bm Bm Smash. End of song. This pattern went on for each song for the whole set. It’s not that these guys couldn’t play, they really could, but rather that I just felt the whole thing had been done over and over again. It wasn’t until about halfway through the set that I realised I had actually seen these guys before, what does that tell you?
I don’t want to go on anymore because I hate being negative about any band. If you love punk go and see these guys, they tick all the boxes, they rock hard and you’ll have a great time watching them. You really don’t have to agree with me or find my opinions valid in any way, I’m just some shithead with a Macbook.
Again there’s a possibility I’ll be a tad biased in this next section but this time from the flipside of the coin. Jenna’s Revenge were the reason I was at this gig. I saw them at Joiners back in December 2010 and, despite having a pretty serious cold, loved being there to hear their stuff. I recently rediscovered the band and, having found in my absence that vocalist Sic had left and then rejoined, also found their name at this gig. Turns out that in that year long span the band had not lost any of their hard rock credentials. Billed on their Twitter as ‘simply bloody good balls out rock music’ this is probably the simple addage that best defines the band’s sound. There is no pretention with Jenna’s Revenge, no showboating, no frills. They are the stripped down essence of hard rock. Even the frontman’s powerful and commanding prescence was chopped down to human proportions with a one song sat on the side of the stage because he was, in his own words, a ‘tired old man’. On top of this skeleton of rock came the fact that all four of the band’s elements came together with their own individual voice. Gritty and harsh vocals from Sic, insanely co-ordinated fretwork from guitarist Craig Farley, poundingly fierce drum beats from Greg Dailey and, possibly most impressive, the funky, groovy slap and finger bass playing from the self titled ‘Super Nice Brad Ice’. It’s so tempting in bands to sideline one of the rhythm parts in favour of the more central guitar or vocal parts but when a band genuinely does give its dues to these parts the payoff is infinite.
The different songs on display by Jenna’s Revenge displayed an impressive range and, although I did spend close to the whole gig moshing, I could feel every note, every beat, every pop and every growl firing off that stage knowing that I was witnessing a truly great down to earth rock band. Part of me just wishes they’d played some songs from the last gig of their’s I saw – I would’ve loved to sing along to ‘Years’.
Now one thing I definitely remember about the last gig with Jenna’s Revenge was how much the lead support managed to eclipse the headliners (not naming any name) and I’m a little sorry to say that it was kinda the case this time as well. Near4saken started their gig with a very promising edge. Bringing out style reminiscent of the skater rock genre of the 90s, this band thundered through their first song bringing out some impressively different licks alongside the ordinarily tired and dated genre. Following this initial foray into reinvigorating the sound of the 90s Near4saken went through the rest of their gig cherry picking aspects and styles from across the more mainstream alternative (I know it’s a shit definition but it’s really a difficult thing to describe) blending in alternative, hard rock, skater, soft rock alongside a combination of brash music against more somber and introspective content. Musically this band were good, they had a lot of shit going for them in terms of their talent but there was just one thing letting them down – their performance.
It may have just been because the lack of sleep and long soul-destroying day at work were catching up with me but it never really felt like these guys were performing these songs – just playing them. From the guitarist’s onstage move of left foot forward right foot back through the statuesque bassist to the look of pain/boredom on the drummer’s face I kept thinking to myself that this shit would be exactly the same on an album. It pissed me off if anything because, like I said, musically these guys blended so much stuff together that it felt like they had the talent to do something amazing, maybe that in of itself left it a little directionless, not a lot stylistically to cling onto. I don’t know, something wasn’t right, and without performance behind it the whatever-it-was really stuck out. I mean come on, it’s live. Fucking live it.
Like I said before these guys are very talented and I was a very very tired man by this point with a mind constantly forcing images of his bed into view like a girlfriend with a headache at a house party, begging you to go home. Maybe I haven’t given them them the justice they deserve. I’d recommend seeing them live to make your own opinions on what their style is and how awesome you think they are, something I believe about any of the bands here. Regardless of my opinions getting this far and performing live is still an achievement and without people to see them none of these bands, good or bad, would survive. Go see them, find your favourites, give them your love and just maybe you could be seeing the next Metallica.
Just please, for the rest of us, don’t go and see the next Brokencyde.
Lost Cause Cowboy: 9/10
Crash Mansion: 8/10
Jenna’s Revenge: 9/10