Monday, 30 March 2009

Funeral for a Friend @ Foundry 30/03/09

They sold out. Lost their passion. Traded post-hardcore for stadium rock. They forgot about their fans. All accusations thrown at Funeral for a Friend in recent years. All refuted with latest release Memory and Humanity, a return to their earlier dynamics, and further reinforced in a live setting, as they reconcile any complaints through action.

First tonight however, fellow Welshmen People in Planes get the chance to entertain the crowd, which is at this early stage in the evening (drinking time), laced with 14 year old girls. Their lack of asymmetrical haircuts does little to appease this demographic, but their choruses get everyone nodding in recognition as they are driven home with arena-filling power.

Following this, the young female contingent is far more pleased with the arrival of We Are The Ocean, who’s best Alexisonfire impression is commendable, if their delivery is a little pretentious. They aren’t headlining, and many people aren’t moving. Over the course of their set they learn to stop telling them to do so, and start making them.

FFAF encounter no such problems. All darkens, brilliant white spotlights sweep the room, and the Terminator theme blares out. The crowd are prepared for an Arnie-style onslaught, and as soon as the opening drum beat of ‘All The Rage’ is sounded, it is delivered. The floor opens up and bodies fly.

What follows is a set that introduces material from the aforementioned latest release and pays homage to the band’s early career, with an almost total disregard for the album that left a sour taste for many, ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’.

‘Anyone remember 2003?’ asks frontman Matt Davies-Kreye, and it’s clear that, the now relatively few teeny boppers aside, much of the gathered crowd have grown up with FFAF. Testament to the quality and passion of their debut, people still connect so strongly with it over 5 years on. Whether it be thrashing in the pit like it’s their first time for ‘You Drove Me To Daytime Television’, belting out the poignant refrain of ‘Juneau’, or lolling exhaustedly to the final riffs of perennial closer, ‘Escape Artists Never Die’, those there the first time around channel their never-to-be-forgotten youth.

As shown by an impromptu response to fans with a Journey singalong mid-set (the hallmark of a Sheffield student crowd, surely?), FFAF by no means forget them. They are their lifeblood. They may never truly speak out to them quite as resonantly as they once did on record, but their live show is stronger than ever, and the energy when these original fans come together is off the scale. They will undoubtedly continue to come back for more.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Smugglers Run @ O2 Academy 13/03/09

Having sold out Academy 2, it was at first underwhelming when Smugglers Run took to the stage. Amidst random strumming, frontman Liam Bardell greets us with the question ‘Ever done it…up the Smuggler’s Run?’. Vague innuendos aside, what follows is a lot of chaotic, feedback strewn noise, which is perhaps the intent for this introduction. But it surely isn’t meant to go past this and into the first few songs of their set.

Beyond this, things definitely improve for the Sheffield Hallam student foursome, with them showcasing new material that shows some potential, and introduces some more interesting song structures to their arsenal. It is when they slow down that everything becomes much tighter. Although this is not what is demanded by the crowd, a great deal of which is quite apparently made up of band members’ friends, who heckle and share in-jokes with them throughout. It is quite clear they are here for a party, and the stripped down numbers do little for them compared to the thumping rockers. Amidst all the commotion, Liam treads a fine line of playing anchor to the band, at times in danger of losing control on themselves and the audience, and playing the rock star himself. This is at times a little overplayed given the status of the show.

The highlight of the set is ‘Black’, which the band have inexplicably not played ‘for the last six months’. Shame on them, it shows a direction that they would be wise to explore, evoking The Cure at their most brooding. The last two numbers are favourites of the crowd, and by this point the band are finally found in their element, ‘Please Die Carefully’ in particular, with charming lines such as ‘we hired a caravan in Clacton, where nothing really happened/so we went into a town, where the beer was watered down’ showcases the quirky side of their songwriting. At the end, Liam exclaims ‘I want to do this every night for the rest of my life’, and you can only hope that they can network well and continue to channel their exuberance for their upcoming tour, even though that dream seems a fair way out of reach at this stage.

Smugglers Run Interview

When I first saw the listing I have to admit I was a little taken aback, ‘O2 Academy Sheffield-SOLD OUT’. Of course, it meant to say Academy 2, but at the same time, to play to a full upstairs crowd of a few hundred people is big news indeed for Hallam lads, Smugglers Run. ‘We are very excited,’ frontman Liam Bardell proclaims, ‘all the hard work is starting to pay off. Nothing has just fallen into place, we have worked for this…hours and hours of practising, hours and hours spent forcing people into coming to our first shows!’

Tonight’s turnout is a milestone for the band, having formed at the city’s other university just a year ago. ‘Hang on, you’re from Sheffield Uni aren’t you? That’s it, [glances with a cheeky grin at Alex, the manager], end this now!’. Of course they’re just playing, ‘We’re all Sheffield students, anyone speaking our name is great for us!’.

When asked what sets them apart from other bands on the Sheffield scene, Dave cites their energy as their key strength. ‘Too many bands just stand there onstage, without any interest in the music they’re playing, we like to throw ourselves around a bit.’ Following this, Liam suggests that ‘Sheffield has a particular scene associated with it nowadays. We see ourselves as being an alternative to the Arctic Monkeys.’ Indeed, the band look to offer something punchy, Dave bestowing upon their music the tongue-in-cheek moniker, ‘Pussy punk’ to his bandmates’ apparent delight . ‘We didn’t try to be different, we’ve just always found ourselves to be a little bit heavier. We like it raw. We’ve even talked about going down to Drop D tuning’, Liam states.
It’s at this point that drummer, Robbie Hesketh, breaks his silence ‘We won’t.’
A point of conflict here?
‘It’s just not something I’m really up for.’

No matter what, Liam has a view of how he sees the current musical climate, and hints that there is some vague strategy to the band’s choices. ‘The mainstream is getting heavier and we’ve got our minds on that. When you start a band you’ve got to look not just at what is popular now, but what will be, in say, three years time.’

The band cite a wide range of influences. When asked who have made a considerable impact, among others they list The Libertines, The Doors, Rage Against the Machine and even, perhaps ironically, local metalcore outfit Bring Me The Horizon. With another knowing glance at the manager, ‘I like to scream every now and then, but I get told off and to look after my voice!’.

However they slot into the local scene, the band stress that they don’t see themselves as a Sheffield band as such, all hailing from elsewhere, but acknowledge its place on the UK’s musical map. Liam asserts that he ‘came to Sheffield because of the music, it just seemed to be a place where there was so much going on musically.’ But it wasn‘t originally all he had hoped for, ‘Not to insult the city, it’s not as cutting edge as say, London. In a way I like that, because as a band, it’s easier to stand out. Not to sound like we’re selling out, but would you rather play in a town where there’s another 10 bands just like you, or one where you’re something different.’
Manager Alex steps in again at this point, ‘If anything, I suppose that knowledge Sheffield’s past success, means we know that we can access the industry from here.’

The first step towards really breaking into the industry is recording, and the band plan to do this ‘when [they] can afford it’, or rather when they can afford to put into practice the session they have planned in theory. ‘We are going to record with Tim, the singer from Bromhead’s Jacket, as soon as we can’. Do they have an idea of how they want it to sound? Dave answers, ‘Like a punch in the face!’, which is clarified by Alex as rather ‘capturing the live experience’ on record.

Before this can come together, the band have planned a fairly extensive tour in order to build a fan base, in which they’re playing each of their hometowns and ‘as many places as they can fit in between.’ Liam has one date in particular he is looking forward to, ‘Colchester’ he says in a distinctly matter of fact tone, ‘’cos my brother-in-law lives there and he’s a copper. He’s promising to bring the whole force, so I’m thinking, they’ve got a bit of money, we might be able to bump up the ticket price a little bit!’.

The band have a distinct strategy in marketing themselves, ‘We’ll use Myspace, we’ll exploit people, we’ll do anything we can to get people down the front really! In the run up to the gig tonight, we used Myspace to get the word out as much as possible, and this has spread to other cities, and so we realised its power [for touring bands]. The way I see it, if you’re playing to more than ten people, then it was worth going’ says Liam, before politely excusing himself to answer a call.

Are you worried you might drive each other mad on the road? The answer, from guitarist Nathan Croot, ‘If anyone is going to drive us mad it will be him [all point over towards Liam, then Nathan mockingly] ‘Oh my God, I’m a superstar!’’.
I reveal this verdict upon his return, he refutes the claim, ‘I think if our manager is around, he will be the one that drives us mad, like ‘everyone get on the bus now we need to leave!’etc’.
‘It’s you who does that.’ (Drummer, Robbie)
‘Would we be playing here tonight if I wasn’t like that, eh?! Do you want to play tonight? We’ve got [a friend] coming who knows the songs! [a brief pause] We’re only playing…’
I do hope so, I don’t want to be the cause of the break-up tonight!

Liam is quick to defend the band’s solidarity however, ‘We’re just looking forward to the tour. We aren’t looking to make money from it, we just want to cover it’s cost. We’re students, we don’t expect to make money, we just want to make some fans and then maybe we can do the same tour in say a year, then they’ll bring their friends.’

Friday, 6 March 2009

Protest the Hero @ Corporation 06/03/09

When I recently mentioned Protest the Hero to a friend, he responded ‘oh yeah, that band that’s all ill-advised beards and twiddley guitars’. Tonight at Corp they showed how they are much more than that.

Having released debut album, Kezia, when they were still in their late teens, much has been said of the potential of the band. From the moment they take to the stage tonight, it is clear that it is coming to fruition. They dominate the room with their sweeping and tapping dual guitar attack and razor sharp drumming, anchored by the soaring vocals of front man Rody Miller. He is particularly on form this evening, hitting the notes you would expect him to struggle with in the flesh and totally commanding his audience during and between songs.

Well, actually, at times the audience does attempt to command him. ‘I am not going to chug it! I did not smoke marijuana at high school and I will not bow to your peer pressure now!’, Miller’s response to the crowd’s chants upon spying him swigging from a bottle of gin. This playful heckling is the product of the party atmosphere the band bring to the stage. There’s no cold rushing through of songs, rather they interact with fans throughout and this helps ensure the reception their songs deserve. When the complex ‘Sequoia Throne’, with it’s time changes aplenty, is seemingly breezed through, the room goes utterly mental. The hairy metalheads air guitar away, the hardcore kids bounce with rare smiles on their faces, the young’uns flail erratically and every last fist and voice is raised for the singalong of the refrain. This trend continues for the duration of the set, perhaps only gathering enthusiasm up to the rampant closer ‘Bloodmeat’.

There’s something inherently likeable about a band that put out a sophomore album that is essentially one long guitar flourish, with a dense lyrical concept about goddess worship, and yet not come across as entirely pretentious and devoid of fun. Protest the Hero extend that feel to the live experience, in a way that is refreshing in a scene that often takes itself all too seriously.