It’s no strange coincidence that at least five of the best gigs I’ve seen so far this year have all taken place in Le Pub, a venue situated just a few miles away from my front door. The owners and local promoters have certainly been working tirelessly against the tide of arena/tribute bilge that is strangling the UK live music scene at the moment to quite rightly deliver real quality live propositions for punters. and its three bands bills like tonight that really do stick a middle finger up at what everyone else appears to be doing.
Granted coupling Canadian garage punks who most people in the UK will probably not have heard of along with two local(ish) bands might not exactly sound like the second coming, but if you hadn’t already heard Ancient Shapes before tonight there really is no excuse for musical ignorance in this age of the interweb. Admittedly it took me a few listens to realise that contemporary country singer Daniel Romano was also the Daniel Romano fronting Ancient Shapes, such is the shift for him musically with this project, but once it had all clicked into place and I had managed to procure a copy of the band’s 2016 self-titled debut record this was always going to be a must see gig for me.
It’s such a shame then that more people hadn’t done the same levels of research I had because Cardiff trio Human Heat gets to open proceedings tonight to only a handful of people. Ploughing into their set of intricately constructed alt-rock and only receiving a smattering of applause in return. Its moments like these that make me so angry about the UK music scene right now, but you know what, if people can’t be arsed to venture out the door to their local club to support new bands then they deserve to be paying £50 to £100 to be watching a few dots on the horizon in some fucking aircraft hangar, or worst still the £10 to £20 they are willing to part with to watch blokes pretending to be bands they never saw or liked the first time of asking. That’s right fuckers leave all the hard work to us if you want, then rejoice in the fame by association if a local band does finally make it big… Look don’t get me started, this is supposed to be a live review, not a rant.
Thankfully my faith in humanity is almost restored by the time The Violent Hearts take to the stage with the venue having noticeably filled up and all that inner rage I was feeling immediately subsides as I can now rejoice in the inner rage of someone else instead. Melding the post-punk angst of Joy Division with the spiky punk pop sensibilities of Newport’s very own 60ft Dolls The Violent Hearts are certainly a very intriguing proposition. With singer/guitarist James Mattock and bassist Carl Murrihy having previously worked together in Sharks and with Mattock currently in White Trash with drummer Aidan Sin (their post Computers band) I kind of have a sixth sense about what witnessing The Violent Hearts live might be like. From the off their energy levels are enough to put a Duracell bunny to shame, however sonically this is very much a different thing from the guys. Okay at times there is still the odd hint of Strummer in Mattock’s voice and the rockabilly shuffles that Sin also delivers when sat behind the boogie-woogie master Henri Herbert do creep into proceedings every now and then, but that’s really where this all stops and the musical alchemy these boys practice begins. With little to no between-song banter and just the dissonant sound of a Jazzmaster left to chime in each new song the 30 odd minutes the trio are on stage is dark and compelling stuff, Tonight’s set closer ‘Hex On Me’ is perhaps the trio’s defining moment and for the sake of your own sanity I’d suggest you either go check it out on Bandcamp right now or perhaps better still go see The Violent Hearts and hear it live. Tell them RPM sent you.
The Bob Dylan-esque image I had in my head of Daniel Romano from the cover of his excellent 2015 album ‘If I’ve Only One Time Askin’’ is a far cry from the guy strutting around Le Pub tonight. Gone is the neckerchief wearing, cigarette smoking bequiffed folk rock muse and in his place stands a preening ice cool rock god clad in denim and sporting mandatory sunglasses indoors. He appears by his very nature equal parts Kory Clarke and David Johansen. Quite why he’s also decided to top this image off with a ludicrous blonde mullet wig is beyond me though, but then again when you’re a sucker for detail like Romano then I guess you’ll do whatever it takes to get the mood right, and here he plays the part of rock star frontman to perfection and here along with the four other musicians that make up the touring line up of Ancient Shapes they create a seismic force of pure rock ‘n’ roll energy designed to produce sweaty mosh pits wherever they play.
Influence-wise they display these very openly when just two songs in they deliver a stunning cover of The Who’s ‘I Can’t Explain’, but for me it’s the spirit of New York that burns brightest during the powerpop punk rock blasts of ‘I Wanna Put My Tears Back In’, ‘Hurricane Lady’ and the band’s signature tune ’Ancient Shapes’ which coincidently is also the longest of their songs clocking in at around the two and a half minute mark just because it has a Tom Petty-like midsection breakdown before it once again speeds off faster than ‘United Blood’ era Agnostic Front.
From the band’s just released second album ‘Silent Rave’ ‘Mental Slavery (We Can’t Quit) is amongst the most immediate of the tracks I’d not heard before, and I can honestly think of no better way of ending proceedings than by blasting through the infectious and ridiculous ‘Giant Comma’ a truly fantastic song that somehow makes me wonder what those short educational films on Sesame Street might sound like if it were soundtracked by The Hives.
At the start of this review, I stated that Le Pub had been home for five of the best gigs I’ve witnessed in 2018, well you better make that six because tonight was everything that is great about rock music right now. The only thing missing was the Sold Out sign at the door.