Gig Review: Bruise Control & Sniff @ Manchester & Wigan [27+28/05/22]

It’s not often that a tour rolls through town where you’re determined to go see not one, but two dates. I’d have seen all eight if I could have. Bruise Control and Sniff are the two hottest tickets in the UK DIY punk scene right now so, for me, it’s a no brainer to travel to both the Wigan and Manchester gigs on their ‘Your Want To See The State of Our Tour’ jaunt.

Friday night is at The Boulevard in Wigan, which is as new to me as a pie barm. The basement venue is surprisingly cavernous and filled with people wearing Bruise Control t-shirts. Future Selves open the show – apparently, it’s their first gig and, despite a few technical hiccups, it’s pretty well delivered. They’ve evidently taken notes from Chuck Ragan and Against Me! in their songwriting; there’s a big melodic gruff punk/midwest emo influence that hits just right. They’ve got a ways to go to settle into their character as a band, but this is a great start and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more from them.

Future Selves. Photo by Baz Thornton.

The hype for Sniff has been mounting since they released their debut EP in September 2021 – it swept infectiously across the punk rock interwebs – the dildo dog cover was in every inch of my newsfeed for weeks. This debut tour for both Bruise Control and Sniff has brought that hype to a fever pitch and there’s a little collection of us waiting to see the live show for the first time. Sniff is Alex Smith from Bobby Funk and Tinned Fruit performing solo, accompanied by a projector, videos for each song, and a full complement of props.

Sniff’s honesty and vulnerability are both astounding and endearing; he’s exposed both lyrically and literally, performing half the set in nothing but gold bloomers and white stockings. Toying with gender and sexuality is an intrinsic theme to the performance, as is sobriety, recovery and romantic subversion. It’s complex and fascinating; an exploration of the self. Alex has an argument with past versions of himself onscreen with sharp comedic timing, aping the conversation we all have internally. In one of the set’s highlights, he stands back to read a book whilst a rockstar version of himself performs a guitar solo onscreen, complete with explosions and Word art.

He smears lipstick on his face early in the show, flirts with the audience and, towards the end, he hands me a roll of lurid pink bondage tape to bind his wrists with – going on to perform a song blindfolded, tied and virtually naked. I’ve seen this stunt on countless Instagram stories and felt a frisson of intrigue, but I’d never considered quite how that must feel for him to perform; to be that vulnerable in a room full of eyes on you. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen at a punk gig before and, somehow, it’s not remotely pretentious. 

Perhaps more importantly, whilst we’re all focussed on the novelty of Sniff’s visual performance, the music is terrific. It’s catchy, current and impossible not to love. That’s what makes this whole thing work. Even if Sniff was performing without the projector and the props, we’d still be calling him a musical genius.

Bruise Control @ The Boulevard, Wigan.

Bruise Control has been a hot tip in the Manchester scene from their very first gig, which was some time in 2021. This tour is their first foray out of town, apart from the odd Northern gig. I swear they get better every time I see them, and tomorrow’s Salford gig is one of the best I’ve seen them play. We’ll get to that in a bit. 

In Wigan, Bruise Control are surrounded by friends and the crowd kicks off the second they start. Even though they’ve only got a handful of songs online, there is no shortage of people who know all the words. It’s a testament to the enchanting ease of Bruise Control’s songwriting; delivered by the whole band with confidence that far outstrips their teime as a band. They slot neatly into the post-punk niche that’s in vogue in 2022, with a twist of 70s inspiration and post-hardcore esque guitars.

Frontman Jimbob Taylor, known to some pals as Wig On due to his Wigan roots, is clearly in his element at this show. The dress code for this tour is disgracefully short jean shorts (not quite as short as Rotten Foxes, mind), and Jim’s ‘Born t’ Lose’ stomach tattoo is getting a full airing as he does a little sassy strut that you could compare to Iggy Pop, but it’s actually just distinctly Bruise Control. He’s spitting lager at the crowd and sharing the mic with the front row, egging folks on to crowd surf. 

A neat segue into a few bars of Paranoid by Black Sabbath seriously fires up the room. After a week on the road, the band are sounding tighter than ever, even though there are beers literally flying. This is a killer show with loads of energy, loads of dancing and lots of grinning punks meandering about afterwards.

Seconds later, the guitar fell and the strap suffocated Jimbob.

Saturday starts with a late Fuel breakfast with Sniff and Tommy from Bruise Control (who we did a podcast with recently), then an afternoon in Tommy’s garden drinking Stiegl 0.0% Zitrone in the sun and pretending we’re in Germany. The rest of the tour’s been bowling alleys and arcades, so we’re making every effort to keep the ‘tour’ vibe up even if everyone apart from Alex is sleeping in their own bed.

Saturday’s venue is The Old Pint Pot in Salford, a pub I’ve never ventured to before, even though it’s only a 15-minute drive from my gaff. A pint in the sunshine in the terraced beer garden is the perfect accoutrement to an evening of up-and-coming punk rock, and a chance to have a natter with The Latchkey Kids before they open the gig. 

This is my first time seeing The Latchkey Kids, who’ve sprung up on the Manchester gig circuit only very recently. Approximately four bars into their first song, I realise I’m about to fall in love with them. This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as I was quite a fan of some of their previous bands (particularly Upstream Colour in recent years and Pendleton ‘back in the day’ – a day which was actually well before my time). Nonetheless, I’m pretty blown away. 

They play melodic punk rock with enough two-handed tapping to tick my polyphonic skate-punk box, but not so much that it’s in any way self-indulgent. They’ve got that indie-punk talent for weaving together gut-wrenching emotional pulls through both the lyrics, the vocal tones and the guitar melodies – it’s all slightly strained in a way that makes me feel things and want to have a dance at the same time. If I like them this much on a first listen, I can’t imagine how great they’re going to be in a year’s time.

The Latchkey Kids @ The Old Pint Pot, Salford.

Next up is Sniff. To condense my views on Sniff’s set into a paragraph is a considerable challenge. One of the surprises for me is how much Bookz stands out – I’m tunefully muttering, “Post-modern insurrection, Karl Marx in my book collection,” to myself whilst I’m having a pre-gig wee when a stranger joins in singing from the cubicle next door. It’s been in my head non-stop since Friday night.

On the second watch, two nights in a row, I’m able to notice more details in Sniff’s set. The projected video works better in a darker venue, where the full flashing colours that accompany choruses like ‘I can’t be the best version of myself anymore’ douse the room in a strobe-like flash of pink and green and red. Small details stand out, like Fred Durst popping up for a millisecond, celebratory handshakes, an unexpected lipstick-smeared snog planted onto one of Bruise Control, poetry about the Tories, and clever use of comic sans. People are dancing tonight and the venue’s better suited to this kind of performance.

Sniff @ The Old Pint Pot, Salford.

“This is the last night of the tour and I’m going to give you every last bit of my voice,” Jim announces, as the Salford crowd clearly decides to give Bruise Control their all in return. For a high-ceilinged venue, it sure is sweaty; I can taste salt and the dancefloor’s slick. 

Bruise Control are a band who have lived the experience of frenetic DIY punk gigs, but who were forged from the classic foundation of Thin Lizzy, Mötley Crüe or AC/DC. They’ve got a little bit of that classic rock black magic, stuck it in a blender with garage punk and indie guitars and come up with something that’s so current that it’ll make your hairs stand on end. Try and watch Bruise Control without dancing, I dare ya.

Whilst Jimbob’s stealing the show with his natural-born-frontman act, it’s actually guitarist Niall Griffin who’s sharpening the modern edge of the whole shebang. It’s his guitar that helps to set the band apart from other cookie-cutter pub-punk bands. Jimbob lies on the stage floor, clasping the mic and forcing the words from his chest when Niall gives up on his guitar. He unplugs it, wheels it around in a circle and slams it into the stage in front of the kick-drum… and just inches from Jim’s forehead. The whole front-row palpably breathes a sigh of relief as we realise the singer’s not just been decapitated by the guitarist. The guitar’s split in half, held together by the red strap, fucked beyond all repair. Niall throws his instrument around a lot and this feels like the perfect coda to the tour.

As if that wasn’t enough, everything descends into chaos when Bruise Control launch into the opening bars of their cover of Sabotage, announcing the last song of their set. Fingers are breaking, beers are flying, and the crowd is going fucking crazy. I cannot get my head around how good Bruise Control have gotten. Every time I see them it’s better than the last.

The last night of the tour feels more like a beginning for Bruise Control. It feels like they’re standing on the precipice of greatness, and I for one can’t wait to watch them dive in headfirst. 

Written by Sarah Williams.

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