South Bank Social, York, 28th August 2016
You know it is with the underground. People in the know, know. Networking, word of mouth… and social media. So while …And the Hangnails had intimated a ‘secret’ gig at a venue tbc a few days previous, it wasn’t until the day of the event that The Howl & the Hum announced, via Facebook, a ‘last minute’ gig with a killer lineup in the dingy upstairs room in a WMC in York’s South Bank.
Call me a scenester if you like, although I’d rather say I’ve got my finger on the pulse. Moreover, this was a remarkably un-scenester gig in many ways. The peeling, mildewed walls in the room with a capacity in the region of 35 to 40, the unisex toilets hardly hollered ‘hip’ or chic and reflected a greater alignment with the DIY / basement club aesthetic of early 80s punk.
Events like this are a(nother) sign of the times. As small pub venues go to the wall, sold off by pubcos for conversion to flats or convenience stores, and other venues find themselves subject to noise abatement orders and other untenable licensing restrictions when finances are already tight, it’s increasingly difficult for bands – especially smaller ones – to find opportunities to play live. But as the cliché goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and folks are taking it upon themselves to become increasingly creative in seeking out underused, or even unused spaces. And I’m all for it. This is keeping it real, and in a universe parallel to the glitzy, mass-produced chart fodder churned out by bling-toting major-name acts with the backing of multi-billion dollar corporate labels, this is where the music that matters can be found.
A brief solo acoustic promo for the South Bank Suicide Club prefaced a belting set from Howl & The Hum The intimate venue setting was well-suited to their detailed sound: the textured guitar sound, tom-heavy and restrained drumming, paired with their knack for monumental crescendos draws parallels with early I Like Trains, although their style is very much more geared toward alt-country with a fiery rock twist. Intense and impressive, they have a ‘great things ahead’ aura about them.
The Howl & The Hum
The last time I saw Tooth, they were so new they didn’t have a name, but they did have some great tunes. Having risen from the ashes of The Littlemores, they’ve ditched the ska leanings of their previous incarnation, and while there are still strong traces of Arctic Monkeys in their acerbically observational indie-rock, they’re flexing new muscles with some big choruses and chunky bass-leg guitar tunes.
Washing Machine Repair Man offers a brief acoustic interlude – by which I mean a detour into delirious and borderline deranged shouty anti-folk, augmented by double bass and green rubber wellies – before Bull are up. Having found the last couple of performances I’ve seen from Bull to be a shade lacklustre, it was uplifting to see them on such fine firm on this outing. Guitarist Dan Lucas seems to have learned pretty much everything he knows about solos from listening to Dinosaur Jr albums, and for that, he gets my vote. With shirts off and sweat running free in the tiny venue, they really step things up a notch, and carry the enthusiastic crowd with them.
…And the Hangnails are one of those bands who never get tired, who are consistently brilliant in their volume and intensity. And not only are they a great band, but they never put in less than 100%, with the same explosive energy being poured into intimate pub gigs as festival shows. Tonight is no exception, and the crowd get down accordingly. They may have turned the amps down a bit on account of the venue and its residential location, but when the room is such that if you’re not in the front two rows you’re in the back two rows, and you’ve got a drummer who hits so hard he can cause earthquakes with a single bash of the snare, it’s still ear-bleedingly loud. And these guys go for it, a hundred miles an hour, hell-for-leather, no let up, blasting out pretty much every last one of the highlights from their two albums. Crunching riffs, piercing vocals and immesne drumming are all pulled together in a molten heat into solid gold garage-influencd alt-rock classics. By the time they’re done, we’re all deaf and halfway transmuted to liquid form, and everyone is very happy indeed.
Trundling out superlatives to apply to the individual acts or even the night as a whole seems somewhat redundant: stepping out into the cool night air, tacky from head to with perspiration and ears whistling, the buzz isn’t coming from the beer, but from the exhilaration of living in the moment.