Posted by jamie on Feb 9, 2010
REBEL ALLIANCE TOUR
The Skints, Chris Murray, Mouthwash, Random Hand
30th January 2010
At one point, Josh from the Skints stops to thank all of us “for coming out at 18.30 to watch all the bands. No one does that, so thank you for doing that”. He’s also mentioned, though, that “this isn’t our [the Skints'] headline set, you’ve seen four headline sets tonight”.
Like pretty much everything he’s said, this is all greeted with a huge cheer. The Skints are riding the crest of a wave right now and seem pretty much unstoppable, and this, after all, is a London show, so it’s almost to be expected that this dark little oven and its slimy, deliriously happy population would be in thrall throughout.
In saying what he did, though, Josh did have a point, of course. It does take a level of commitment for a whole crowd to be queuing outside and around a venue at that time of the evening. Perhaps it had to do with the size of the four bands on the bill: that comment bout there being “four headline sets” had it pretty much bang on: none of this was to be missed.
In a Rebel Alliance mailout, Sexy Neil “Neil” McMinn had stopped to thank the label’s fans for helping to make the label a real, living entity “and not just a logo we put on the back of SB6 records”. I guess it’s a turnout like this, and the others which have packed other venues up and down the country on this tour, and the commitment to be there for all the bands that gives the clearest evidence of this. That said, the fact that Rebel Alliance can tour without the Sonic Boom Six and pack venues like it has, and that this many bands of this calibre are willing not just to release records on this label but to tour in support of it and of each other, is a huge vote of confidence in what Rebel Alliance has come to stand for in such a short space of time. The Ruff Guide came out on Deck Cheese, remember.
The show, then. If you walk past the World’s End/Underworld on a regular basis, you’ll know that there is ALWAYS a queue of fun looking peeps outside in the afternoon and evening. When you get to be one of them, because it’s not a smelly metal night, it’s extra good fun. I was psyched before we even got in, and we were in early. I don’t just mean early because of the early doors, I do mean our crew were among the first inside. If you’ve just done the RBF/SB6 tour and not seen Adam (their merch guy), he’s on this tour. Rest easy, coastguards.
Random Hand have been chosen to open this show, and they’re on while it’s still filling up. For a short while we’re treated to the slightly surreal sight of the guys playing to a semi-circle of empty space, a line of punks waiting patiently for the opportunity to throw their bodies around in said space just beside it. The way Random Hand play, though, it gets you. Even from opening, it’s difficult, even if you wanted to, to stand still. Hands, feet, then legs and then whole bodies begin to move around. The benefit of hindsight, by the way, says this was about the only time there was room for whole bodies to properly move around at the front. It was more shoulder-to-shoulder smush after that.
By the time Anger Management becomes the band’s third song of the evening, faces are pointing out of the mash of jigging arms and legs, raised just enough to make a wolf-howl face to the “whoah-oh-oh” of the chorus. Random Hand’s dirty, metal-infused skacore is a perfect start to proceedings, and really good show in its own right. They’re a four-piece, if you haven’t seen them: drums, bass, guitar, samples, three vocalists and a trombone. It’s as good as it sounds, and a little bit nastier, and it’s very, very good fun to bounce around to.
Playing first, they pretty much just get on with it: there’s the odd joke abut them being Northerners, and, bizarrely, a request from Robin for everyone to take a step forward. Forward? You’re on the front of the stage, mate. Had we all done it, I’d have been standing on Tilston’s toes and Chips would practically have been backstage. The Underworld’s like that at the best of times and this must have sold out. What a giggle. So, as I said, Random Hand turn up and get on with getting the party started. It’s a set still heavy on Inhale, Exhale material and it still sounds really good. Given that there’s so much excellent and brand new music around at the moment, that says a lot for these songs, but it definitely works and the night has its first bruises. Those who got to move their feet in some actual real-life space on the dance floor did well, and the circle pit around the pillar “an Underworld trademark”, as Robin calls it, is always special, and, by this time in the set, is the only time we can see the floor, which didn’t last long in to Random Hand’s set and was extinct for the rest of the night after that. It did seem an odd move, for a while, to have them opening tonight but they’ve done an excellent job.
Mouthwash are on quickly afterwards. Before that, can I just point out, they’ve been playing Mike TV’s EP on a loop before the show and between the bands. That carries on for most of the night. Anyways, Mouthwash appear pretty quickly, and set about carrying on the show. Again there’s not much chat, a bit about how wonderful all the folk at Rebel Alliance are and a bit about their new merchandise. That’s pretty relevant, actually, because their new stuff has a giant picture of a sausage on a fork, and it looks really cool. Mouthwash’s set is excellent. They’re really popular here and it’s easy to see why: they’re really danceable and great fun to watch. The Underworld’s getting fuller and fuller and all of those bodies are bouncing and swaying around, singing along happily. The first time I saw Mouthwash I was delighted that London had a band like them: a group that actually sound like they’re from the UK and from a city, and set out to put the different range of influences that can come from a city as diverse as London in to a set of underground guitar songs. The songs are big, powerful things, and the riffs and basslines wash over us in waves, the whole room rocking like it’s being picked up and shaken like a tiny duck on the top of a choppy sea.
Since bursting on to the scene as a cheeky clutch of ska-punk oiks, Mouthwash went rather quiet for a bit but are now back, having evolved in to one of the UK’s most interesting bands and favourite live acts. These days they’re really imposing, with a huge stage presence, especially on home turf.
First off, their sound is dark, brooding, ominous, with a really menacing synth strongly evident. It’s probably wise, as it can’t be easy going on after Random Hand. It winds up, though, as more of an easy-going, almost reggae sort of an affair, heavy on sunshine and feel-good stuff, but still with that contemporary, urban, UK feel. Mouthwash go down an absolute treat, and their set is incredibly danceable. I haven’t had a chance to spend too much time with True Stories since its re-release on Rebel Alliance, but you can’t help but move yourself. Just as Ask and It Is Given is perhaps unrepresentatively dirtier than a lot of the songs they’re playing at the moment, so That Girl is surprisingly catchy, almost poppy, and takes full advantage of how many vocalists there are in the band. The gang vocals and harmonies are absolutely lush, and tonight they’re sung out by however many hundred of us are in there. Most of Mouthwash’s songs are between those two extremes, but appear tonight back to back as a good-time singalong as the Underworld gradually turns in to a bit of a Rebel love-in. Swung back and forth in waves after wave of Mouthwash’s grimy riffs and dirty beats, and peppered throughout by those vocals, the vibe at the end of this exactly that: a full on love-in. It’s made us all so happy, and, as the lights come back to the very dim that, in the Underworld, is as close to “on” that they ever get, there’s that stick-on, loonish grin on pretty much every face you can see around you.
Chris Murray is sensational. Another act who’s already headlined the Underworld, supported, in fact, by the Skints, who will play after him tonight, and backed by Jon Doyle on bass and Jamie Kyriakides on drums “and those oh-so-soulful lungs”, he’s also the originator of one-man acoustic ska in its current form. That’s no small deal when you think of how many acts have popped up in the UK playing solo and/or acoustic ska. In another sign of how much love there is for Rebel Alliance in this room, Jon and Jamie are both wearing the new Rebel Alliance label t-shirts. They look really nice, actually. I hadn’t been sure for a while.
Chris is a really affable, charming guy, and, despite his undoubted pedigree as a performer both with King Apparatus and as a solo artist, playing acoustic after the two sets we’ve just seen, bombastic as they were, can’t be easy even if it’s not as daunting for Chris Murray as it could be. Instead, his easy going charm has the room wrapped around his little finger. Chris’s first Rebel Alliance release, Chris Murray and Friends, features new recordings of some of his older songs. When I first watched Chris as a solo artist (in 2003, yeesh) he had a little, home-made looking disc called Six Songs, and the songs Ex-darling, Rocksteady and Heartache are all on that. There are three others, surprise, surprise. All three that I’ve named, though, are on his new record and each gets an outing tonight. Rocksteady, for the geeks, sees Jamie K given a different backing vocal, and it really, really works.
You can see a mile off that all three guys on stage are really enjoying this, and Chris is wearing a dirty great big grin. He just loves playing music, and its contagious. The mood is infectious, and it was great in the first place. It’s just been a great show. Chris Murray is excellent at controlling his crowd and steering the audience participation. Josh from the Skints appears on I Need Water. The crowd vocal is, perhaps, a teensy bit difficult to explain: “if you need help”, Chris advises, “..just follow Josh”. “I need water, I need love”, Josh sings, and the Underworld dutifully pipes up. It’s baking hot, and, shoulder to shoulder, now, we’re bobbing along as a deliriously happy room. Chris’s single Shades of the Same Colour has a video, of which part was shot in the Underworld. When he announces the song, a few voices pip up “I’m in it!”. If you look very closely, you can actually see me. I’m well proud of that, but too shy to tell Chris Murray when he’s right in front of me.
It’s a glorious show once again, Chris Murray holding the room effortlessly, and his songs, so many of them so excellent, just shine on a night like this. It just works. By the time he wraps up with the song Home, the air is full of hands, and choruses returned back to the band by the sea of snugly warm, sweat-shiny faces in front of them. Thinking back to it gives me a heavy sigh. Every time Chris Murray plays live, it’s just wonderful.
And so to the Skints. These guys just get better and better: musically, in concert and on record, have come so far so fast in recent times. Here, playing last at a hometown show on one of the bills to see this year, everything is set for them to come out and rinse this gig. That’s exactly what happens. Before the tour dates were finalised, the Underworld was set anyway for a Skints show. Right now, with the walls of this musty, dimly lit basement glistening with a thin layer of all of our sweat, the floor a carpet of busted plastic cups and the dancefloor and the backstage sort of rail bit where all the celebs like Jamie Jazz are hiding out, all shoulder to shoulder and bobbing even in the half silence (still mainly to the Mike TV CD), the stage, and I mean the metaphorical stage, not so much the actual stage, is set for a mega performance.
In the closed space, the climbing heat and the near dark, the Skints enter stage left and set about turning the whole place in to some sort of pulsating, darkened oven, but one that has basslines. This is incredible. A based heavily on Live.Breathe.Build.Believe, which the band have been playing live for some time, is perfect: a massive, riff-driven, reggae monster that has the whole place jumping as one. To be fair, you’ve no choice but to bounce: all of us are pinched between the people either side of us and the room, in rhythm, is a giant mess of trainers on beer cups. Contemplations of the Modern Rude Boy, Murderer and Culture Vulture are, predictably, gobbled up by a room now deliriously happy. What really takes tonight on to a different planet, though, is the collective gasp of sheer joy that greets the song Bright Girl. As the realisation reaches different people one by one, you can almost feel the room get happier, as if little lights were switching on. Except it’s still dark. It’s as if the whole place was one giant mash of pushing, swaying shoulders and stomping feet, and everyone is singing. Immense. Then, for an extra treat, and you might have seen this before, but tonight, it’s better than ever, the song becomes Inner Circle’s Sweat, met with another roar and its “a la la la la long” refrain bellowed back at the band, who return to Bright Girl, again happily welcomed back.
This show gets better and better, every song, every solo cheered, and the room constantly swaying. I admit, after some guy dressed like N-Dubz wriggled in front of us it got too intense in the very middle, and I watched the rest from the side. It was still packed and still moving out there, as the band glide effortlessly through an excellent set of songs, in which everything is perfect. Eventually, exhausted, it’s all wrapped up to a rapturous response. For a few moments, nobody can actually move and even when there’s a tiny bit of room it takes a while for anyone to take a step in a direction because just about everybody has lost their mates. It’s all been a bit of a love in anyway: at one point Josh points out that the Skints’ first Underworld set was played to six people, all of whom are in the room tonight. You’d be hard pushed to find anyone you know, mind. As the lights get gradually a tiny bit brighter, blinking, sweat soaked bodies stumble around the clearing floor meeting and hugging up to each other. Mostly, to people they arrived with, but a few tongues did get swapped, by the way: it was basically like one giant aphrodisiac, after all.
Shivering, blinking, and impossibly happy, we make our way to various drink and food joints, delighted at what we’ve all just seen. My legs are like a baby Bambi’s, so getting anywhere takes a little longer, and a lot of people are the same. Excellent stuff: one of those nights to end all nights.
Thank you, also, to the folk at Rebel Alliance for keeping a four-band, Saturday night London show to £9 a ticket. That’s proper punk, guys. Respect.