Photo by Leo Mazzocchio
Sunday night is not necessarily a night for music some might say- instead, it is perhaps more a time for families to be together, dogs to be petted and Morse to be watched. Clearly, the young crowd gathered outside the Sugarmill tonight had not been told this though, a buzz filling the air outside the popular Stoke Venue for the return of popular local band Friends of Ken, after a lengthy absence.
The first support of the night came from Kid Got Caught and their powerpop sensibilities. Coming across as a perhaps slightly more thrash punk version of Fall out Boy, KGC played a reasonable set that featured songs with some interesting pace changes and flourishes, along with some potentially anthemic choruses. However, what held them back was a lack of personality within the music itself, as there was nothing to distinguish them from anyone else within the powerpop scene. Indeed, they didn’t help themselves by adopting American accents for the vocals and the two guitarists Joe and Broomy didn’t play off each other well enough to keep interest in the melody of the songs. Adding to this a general lack of tightness in the playing, Kid got Caught became an under whelming first support in need of a bit of direction and time to find their own personal sound instead of aping their obvious influences. However, worthy of note was their cover of a Johnny Cash song, which was quite unexpectedly turned into a screamo-thrash extravaganza to much hilarity, whether this was intentional or not. Which Johnny Cash song it was however, is still up for some debate.
Next up were Last Man Down, wowing the audience with their incredibly tight and well played radio-friendly rock. Consisting of Brothers Alex and Ash, on Bass and Drums respectively, and flanked by guitarists Mike and Matt, their on-stage sound was admirably close to their recorded material, complemented by an energetic and friendly stage presence. Between songs, Lead vocalist Alex chatted with the audience, urging them to dance and have a good time, with a select group doing just that. It makes a nice change that this style of music has become friendlier in recent times- a couple of years ago, it would have been circle pits, now its handclaps and hip shakes and this mentality is reflected well in Last Man Down’s sound. With clean melodies and good harmonising from the entire band, they were clearly having a great time playing the music they love, their 25 minute set well received by the audience, which incorporated an almost worryingly accurate cover of Miranda Cosgrove’s ‘About You Now’. Their final song, Extraordinary Kid summed up their sound well, with the whole band lending their vocals to the track, along with some strong guitar work and good rhythm changes building the song up well to a final thundering chorus. If I had to level any complaints at Last Man Down, it would be that they are almost too tight- a little bit more grit and ferocity to their live sound could add a lot more to their performance. Saying that, Last Man Down are a talented young bunch and are on the verge of breaking through and becoming huge.
When Friends of Ken took to the stage, they were greeted with huge cheers from the modest sized audience- for a band that have been around the Stoke area for 10 years now, they still manage to draw a fairly large and diverse crowd, from the young’uns that queued up before opening to a few groups of older clientele. Starting their set with fan favourite Backwards, Friends of Ken were clearly in good spirits, following on from their charity gig last weekend at the Corner Cupboard where singer Big’un had lost his voice through over-energetic shouting. Voice fully intact, FoK attacked their songs with much ferocity and passion, which became infectious to the crowd who couldn’t help but bob along and tap their feet, rapturously applauding after every song. Friends of Ken were also on top form for their on-stage banter between with Big’un and the rest of the band who between them attempted to weave a conspiracy theory about Dave Grohl killing off Kurt Cobain as well as inventing the internet at the same time, much to the audience’s obvious pleasure. They raced through their 10 song set in what seemed like only a matter of minutes even with all the banter, showing how well they managed to capture and keep the audiences attention from start to finish even when playing new material that was unknown to the audience. Friends of Ken’s sound is by no means revolutionary; indeed, it could even be seen as a bit old fashioned nowadays in the wake of the more punchy and sonically tidy bands (which incidentally Last Man Down epitomise) but through strong song writing and a real flair for performance on-stage, Friends of Ken are still a band worth paying attention to today. With an album coming out later this year, perhaps Friends of Ken will gain the publicity and fan base they clearly deserve from their years of playing and honing their punk rock shtick.