Monday, 1 September 2008

The Shaiyans/The Control/The Rough Charm @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. August 29th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photos by Darren Washington
(click on to enlarge)

Support bands don’t have it easy, do they? Performing in front of an ambivalent (and relatively sober) audience isn’t easy, but Manchester five-piece The Shaiyans do an admirable job here. Opening with a lengthy drum solo, before bursting into heavy rhythm and urgent vocal with their opener Sweet Music, the band display some great energy here, on a particularly sweaty night. With songs like Do The Right Thing and Gotta Get Myself A New Constitution - with their dazzling urgency and Lenny Kravitz-esque foot stomping riffery - they do themselves no harm at all. And The Shaiyans leave the stage to an audience a great deal more appreciative and heavier in numbers than the crowd half an hour earlier. As support bands go, the lads can return North up the M6 with smiles on their faces, after a job well done.

The Control are one band I have been itching to write about for some time. Having seen glimpses of them recently at the Stoke Sounds launch party, I had yet to see them live in more intimate surroundings. They arrived onstage with much anticipation, the crowd buzzing, so much so that it’s hard to imagine The Control have only been around for a few months. Tonight is their second gig since the inclusion of new drummer, Mikey Blue, and the stories around the campfire suggest the band are now even better than they were before.

The very first thing that stands out about The Control - yet not discreetly, like a small cigarette burn on a shirt sleeve, but more Slam! Wham! like a wet kipper across the eye - is their bursting, uninhibited confidence and throbbing energy. The Control clearly know their audience and when their opener Crimes Of Lovedance begins mayhem ensues in the form of a mosh-pit. It’s almost exhausting just watching them. Watching frontman Joe’s showmanship, the singer with the fluffiest fringe in pop, jerking and twitching across the stage, is reminiscent of Ian Curtis and the legendary Joy Division - a band from which The Control have taken their name (Joe was actually an extra in Curtis’s recent film biography). Contemporary similarities, for me, would be shades of We Are Scientists (particularly with fans’ favourite, Playground Punks) and perhaps Interpol.

‘Anyone here like sex, drugs and rock n’ roll? I do,’ states Joe, before song The Wings Have Fallen Off, with its Hendrix-inspired soloing, drives the crowd into a frenzy. As their set continues, the pace never relents. Serving as perhaps testimony to their overall confidence, The Control invite rapper Nicholas Roache to perform in their catchy number, Stop Hiding. The band, it seems, at the moment, can do no wrong, and they are making friends and fans in all the right places. The Control also came with a high recommendation from Steve Dean, who has reviewed the band three times already, all positive. He was in attendance tonight, not as a reviewer, but as a fan - it’s not hard to see why.

Every now and again a band will come along out of nowhere and announce their entrance on the scene with startling adrenaline and gusto; senses are stirred, heads are raised, music-lovers chat eagerly amongst themselves and excitement brews like hot coffee. That band, at this particular moment, is The Control, one of the first names on many lips when affronted with the question, ‘What’s hot in Stoke-on-Trent right now?’

The Control have raised the bar, and the biggest test for them is the expectancy that comes with it. Indeed, they have material to continue their rapid assent, and in lead-guitarist Richard Bratt and bassist/backing vocalist John Burgess they have the musicianship to deliver it.

The Rough Charm, I’m informed, return home to headline The Sugarmill after a few rocky months touring up and down the country. Most bands would struggle to endure such testing times - nobody said things were gonna be easy - but The Rough Charm are made of sterner stuff. Seeing as the band draw their influences from some of the most prominent bands of the late-eighties and nineties (Oasis, The Jam, The Libertines, etc - perhaps I’m biased, I share
the same love interest with this era), it’s virtually impossible not to like them. The Rough Charm perform indie-guitar pop as effortlessly and yet as raw as their name suggests. As the performance goes on, with each song, each infectious charge of head-bobbing riffage, the band increase in confidence, enjoying themselves, and the crowd reciprocate, rocking and moshing fiercely.

How can I describe the songs of The Rough Charm? Picture the scene: you, along with a small group of friends, standing arm in arm, smiling, jumping up and down in receptive harmony to a radio-friendly, just downright enjoying yourselves, the endearing harmonies, reminiscences of good times, songs to put a smile on your face and remind you that no matter how hard times may be, good times are never that far away. These are the reasons why The Rough Charm are one of my favourite bands. And anyone who’s ever heard the Alex Turner-esque vocals (Will Abercrombie) of Better Off Alone, or the systematically engaging choruses of Sometimes and Signs will undoubtedly concur.

Band member Liam, not one to miss out on all the fun, decides to abandon lead-guitar duties and join in with the fun in the crowd, diving spectacularly into the mosh-pit. As a result, however, his guitar takes a hammering and the band is forced to play the remainder of their set without him. I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt for the lads - no such luck for a homecoming gig - but such feelings are quickly dissipated as the lads carry on regardless. The appreciative crowd seem to barely notice as Will, along with bassist Danny Nixon and drummer Ashley Leese entertain the crowd with their tunes. To the delight of the crowd, Liam takes a leaf from The Who’s book and smashes his already-pick-upless guitar to smithereens against the stage floor, auctioning off broken pieces like candy in a sweet shop. Result? Salvaged, in style.

Standing watching and listening from the vantage point of The Sugarmill’s balcony sent rushes of mid-nineties nostalgia flooding back. And this can only be a good thing. The Rough Charm, it seems, are here to stay. And thank goodness for that - you had us worried there for a minute.


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