Take three bands with a reputation for fierce live intensity, and add a crowd who were not just fired up for the main event but the supports too. Mix them up in a sweaty basement. It’s a perfect recipe for an evening of debauched fun with one of the UK’s most-loved rock bands of recent years, alongside two acts who are showing some highly promising signs of following in their footprints.
First up, Brighton band Gender Roles, performing the night before their signing to Big Scary Monsters was announced. With vocalist/guitarist Tom Bennett fighting off a cold, their set was understandably a little slow to get going but it eventually hit full speed with new single ‘Plastic’. Gender Roles have a nice mix of 90s grunge and lo-fi without ever slipping into pastiche or mimicry, and on what Bennett estimated to be their “280th show at Sticky Mike’s”, this gave an exciting taste of what is to come.
One band that needs no time to warm up is Weirds, who put on an exceptional display of psych-rock. Frontman Aidan Razzles is a singer of rare intensity, eyeballing onlookers and leaping over the barrier before even the halfway point of the first song. As he roamed at will, guitarist Zachary Thomas was hunched over his guitar, rocking backwards and forwards like a caged beast. With David Nash’s drums crashing unceasingly, the noise generated by the four-piece was ridiculously loud and heavy – but never at the cost of masking the great music underneath. By the end of the set, Razzles and Thomas were joined in the crowd by bassist Matthew Vaughan – completely blurring the lines between the delighted audience and band in the best way possible. Weirds more than lived up to the hype for me tonight, and put on one of the best support slots I’ve seen all year – in many ways they out-performed the headliners (though Pulled Apart By Horses were no slouches themselves).
As if realising that the bar had been raised higher than ever before, Pulled Apart By Horses exploded out of the traps with the title track from this year’s The Haze. Tom Hudson’s voice sounded as strong as ever, while guitarist James Brown span around the stage – propelling himself backwards with unnerving force, especially on a stage as small as Sticky Mike’s. It was a ferocious start and, as the venue staff pushed their way to the front in order to reinforce the flimsy barriers, it was clear that we were in for a wild one. And wild it was, as ‘V.E.N.O.M.’ injected a fury and chaos into the night with an increasingly devastating moshpit making that poor barrier flex under the force. With his back arched, Hudson spat out the lyrics at 150mph with the band playing at breakneck speed just to keep up. Even now, it remains a huge pillar of their set and as the huge riff kicked in at the end accompanied by a huge wall of sound from not-new-anymore drummer Tommy Davidson, it once again proved to be a highlight.
‘Meat Balloon’ and ‘Shake Off The Curse’ had similarly powerful edges to them, with Brown, Hudson and bassist Robert Lee all thrashing at the front of stage. As these older tracks slipped into a setlist understandably dominated by the slightly softer sounds of The Haze, it highlighted a potential issue for the band. Although each album has outperformed the one before it in the charts (this latest reached number 12), it was the older (and heavier) work that resonated the most with the crowd tonight. Perhaps it was just a quirk on this particular night, as the new tracks all sounded as fierce and mighty as the back catalogue.
While there was a slight sag in the middle, the end of the night bounced back. ’Dumb Fun’ in particular did exactly what the title promised, and formed a perfect finale one-two with a chaotic ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ – a track that had people literally running back from the toilets as the intro kicked in. It showed how much love in the room there was for the band, and as they continue to evolve their sound it will be vital to keep that passion burning and bring them along too. For now, the night had an air of consolidation about it as the new and old material meshed together. Vitally, it still also felt like watching your mates in a band – and live music doesn’t often get better than that.