Article by Sarah Williams.
I admit, I was sceptical about travelling to Stoke-On-Trent for a gig on a Saturday night. It’s not exacty known as a hive of musical activity. Fortunately, I was proved completely wrong – I wound up enjoying one of those fleeting gig experiences that you can never recreate.
The Pilgrim’s Pit is an unusual space: esoteric artwork and a ‘city of culture’ sign adorn the exposed brick; UV lighting makes your teeth glow like rave-yard tombstones; bunting and model aeroplanes hang from the ceiling. The room has just enough space for thirty audience members, with barely room for the drumkit against the back wall. The bands stand on the concrete floor like the rest of us – no stages or barriers here.
Even without the intimacy of the venue, this would be a special evening. It’s the launch of Only Strangers’ self titled debut album, a truly high-quality record that they’ve invested two years in making (read our review here). They’re ready to share it with the world for the first time, so they’ve invited a handful of friends and family along to the show. I’m sure they could pack out a bigger venue given the chance, but they’ve chosen to celebrate in their hometown with select few. Playing with them are some of their close friends, who happen to be two classic TNS bands: indestructible Macc’ lads The Kirkz and a ska-core assault from Rising Strike.
The Kirkz are on first, filling the room with their nu-metal infused, hooky hardcore. It’s classic TNS fare that sounds just as hard as ever. They open with Zombie Nation and it’s impossible not to get into the catchy chorus on Tanks and Machinery. The room stays stubbornly sub-zero despite all the bodies congregating into confined space. Max, unmistakable Captain of The Kirkz, roams energetically around in the small gap in front of the mic stands, pausing between songs to instruct people to mime the T-sign at him if they need to get past to use the toilet. A slight downside to the lack of elbowroom is that there’s little definition between the guitars and vocals (which miraculously improves in time for Only Strangers, like it was some sort of plot), but it’s a fresh and raucous set that buzzes with energy. The Kirkz remain a stone cold classic act; it’s a great start to the evening.
It’s a rare treat to see Rising Strike, who don’t play anywhere near enough shows to keep me happy. They’ve got no excuse tonight – 40% the band are Stoke locals and saxophonist Tommy was previously in Sense of Urgency along with three quarters of Only Strangers, so it’s a bit of a sequel gig. I feel uncomfortable writing objectively about a band composed of some of my closest friends, but I will say that their live show is a prime example of catastrophically heavy ska-core balanced on political fervor.
They open with Watching The Watchers, delivering jazzy horn lines that melt into bursts of hardcore, all whilst standing close enough to spit on. It’s primarily a melee of hardcore punk and metal. The sound’s a mess, so it’s a bit hard to keep up between their three shouted vocals, each raspier and harder than the last, however, if anything the lo-fi noise adds a more raw DIY feel to the occasion. Against The Safe is a fast-as-fuck aural frenzy that makes me want to dance around like an idiot, although there’s no space to move in the packed-out room. Pudding fills in the gap for anyone who was wondering where the ‘ska’ was in Rising Strike’s dirty version of ska-core, with the upstrokes continuing on Videodrone and Pursuit.
I am extremely excited to finally get to see Only Strangers’ new material live. These four guys have been playing music for all their adult lives but this is their first full-length album, so it feels like a true milestone that everyone’s here to celebrate. It’s full throttle from the first bar of The Last Time, with Dec O’Reilly’s powerful vocal hitting Jawbreaker standards. The sound quality takes a sudden leap in time for big, atmospheric number So Long, Etruria, as bassist Adam Gater takes over on lead vocals. The first proper dual-vocal showcase comes on What Happened To You? accompanied by a riff straight out of Red City Radio’s repertoire. It’s this combination of vocals, along with the faultless melodic guitarwork, that really sets this band apart.
The kick drum makes a valiant attempt at escape across the concrete floor, so the audience pitch in and hold it in place, before everyone rewards themselves with a whiskey break. They say that Counter Attack is going into early-retirement after this show, which gives an indication of the unusually high level of quality control this group operate. It might not be their best track, but it’s one of my stand-out favourites from the album, so I’m glad I get to see it once! The set is aligned with the album, but it feels like hit after hit after hit with so many hooky Hot Water Music-esque powerful melodies and ringing, warm guitar tones. There’s a great deal of singalong potential on many of their songs; they’d do well on bills with The Smith Street Band or Iron Chic with a huge crowd yelling the words back at them. They’ve created a beautiful product in the album and now they need to get it out there and play it for people.
When they finish their performance there’s a call for an encore from everyone in the room, which the band completely haven’t prepared for. They tell us they’ve got no more songs to play, but it’s hard to turn people down when the audience are in spitting distance. They pull out a very popular and tune from their deep in their back-catalogue that gets people shouting along one last time. As we leave, everyone’s hugging and saying goodbye to one another. It’s been a special evening full of friends and family, a unique night that can’t be repeated.
Article by Sarah Williams.
P.S. While you’re here, read of our review of Only Strangers’ album.