Iron Chic and Bear Trade @ The Montague Arms – 11/06/2017 [Gig Review]

Two of melodic gruff punk’s finest acts deliver ‘sad punk for happy drunks’ at a matinee show in South London.

On a beautifully sunny day in June, I once again find myself piling into a black box filled with the great unwashed. I’ve arrived in South London early for the first of two Iron Chic shows at The Montague Arms in Peckham. To begin with, they booked a normal 7pm-doors gig with The Exhausts and Molar supporting but, when it sold out so quickly, they added a 4pm matinee gig aimed at out-of-towner’s like myself. When they announced the early show, I was immediately spurred into buying tickets by the addition of Bear Trade to the bill.

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If you were to ask me what my biggest musical discovery of 2015 was, it would undoubtedly be Bear Trade. I first saw them supporting Red City Radio at the Brixton Windmill, where I fell head-over-heels in love with them approximately 3 bars in. Overlooking the fact that I find their beardy Northern gruffness overwhelmingly sexy*, I honestly believe Bear Trade are the best melodic punk band in the UK right now, and yet I still often come across people who haven’t heard of them.

Iron Chic fans who’ve not discovered Bear Trade yet are in for a real treat: they sound extremely similar live, in the best way. Bear Trade open with Sea Legs, the first track on their new album Silent Unspeakable (released on Everything Sucks in April). The new album continues in the style of their earlier release Blood & Sand with some poppier overtones, however live you wouldn’t know the difference between the old and new material; the crowd reacts well to both.

Greg Robson’s growly vocal is the musical equivalent of supping single-malt by a roaring fire in a log cabin: it’s warm and comforting, with the occasional group, “Oof!” thrown in. The songs are interspersed with, bassist, Lloyd’s charmingly nonchalant banter. He towers over us at the centre of the unusually high stage, making a dry jokes and pulling a couple of faces that are all Sid Haig in House of a 1,000 Corpses (that’s a compliment, by the way).

Old favourites Bleedin’ Heart Trouble and Anathema get the best reaction from the crowd, but newer tracks Sexy Beast, Inglorious and As Long As We Have Tea are probably my favourites of the set. The new songs are as passionate and emotive as ever; every song is satisfyingly gruff with intricately melodic guitar harmonies, underpinned by outstanding drumming.

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After a brief break in the afternoon sunshine, it’s back into The Montague Arms for Iron Chic. Formed in Long Island in 2007, Iron Chic is a bastion of good melodic gruff punk. I last saw them playing in a large tent at Groezrock 2014, accompanied by a constant stream of stage-divers (6 or 7 at a time) and an unexpected rainbow.  As I watch them walk up the steps at the front of the stage, I realise that catching them in an old working-man’s pub in South London is bound be quite a different experience.

They open with Cutesy Monster Man, the perfect way to kick things off.  They bombard us with beautiful, intricately layered noise from the first note. Guitarist, Phil Douglas, pulls semi-experimental and utterly satisfying notes of feedback from his instrument thoughout the set. Singer, Jason Lubrano spends much of the time stumbling myopically around the stage, occasionally beating his own head with his fist. His gruff vocal draws on a huge reserve of passion and emotion, and he looks as enthralled by the music as we all are. They charge through 35 minutes of solid musical excellence, barely pausing to talk to the crowd. Iron Chic are all about the music.

The Montague Arms is slightly different to your average black-box venue. The bar features tudor beams and variety of taxidermy, and in the main room the walls are painted crimson, with big scarlet curtains draped over the PA. The stage has a jetty that sticks out into the crowd, which is ideal for Iron Chic, where Jason Lubrano makes the most of the space. They hit a dream live-music-moment when he steps out onto the little jetty, growling into the microphone and hunching over a wall of hands reaching up to greet him. On Every Town Has An Elm Street he crouches down to sing, staring directly into the eyes of a girl in a Descendents t-shirt. Close-up, you can witness the exact moment where he makes her day, there is so much joy on her face.

The room is at it’s liveliest for the songs they pull from their infamous first album Not Like This, particularly Time Keeps Slipping Into The (Cosmic) Future and my personal favourite Black Friday – a condemnation of the depression caused by the 9-5 lifestyle. They throw in a lively cover of The Ramones’ Bonzo Goes to Bitburg, the most light-hearted moment of the set. The audience’s mood feels relatively restrained, which I put down to it being 5.30pm on a Sunday. There’s a lot of fist-pumping and singing along but a pit doesn’t open until their last song and, even then, it’s pretty much just two guys violently falling in opposing directions.

I wish that more venues, bands and promoters would put on weekend matinee shows, especially in London. You can still have your roast dinner or a liver-full of pints, but you know you’ll have time to get home and relax after the show, which is essential if you want the energy to survive the working week. This is the drawback: although we were enjoying the show the crowd are somewhat subdued. If you’re interested to hear how the evening show compared, check out my mate Colin’s review on Colin’s Punk Rock World.

Watching bands like Iron Chic and Bear Trade on a Sunday afternoon is the stuff that dreams are made of. Take a leaf from traditional ‘matinee’ shows and hand out ice cream in the interval next time, yeah?

For more gig recommendations in June check out my monthly gig guide.

*P.S.: Dear Bear Trade, if you’re reading this please come play in Ipswich. We will get you drunk, feed you a massive breakfast and I promise not to spend the whole evening trying to stroke your beards. All the best, Sarah W x

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