It feels like aaaaaages since I’ve written a blog entry and even longer since I’ve done a proper gig review as opposed to an overview of a festival. I was certainly feeling an itch that needed to be scratched, so when this show in Stoke came up on my Instagram feed, I knew I had to try and get along.
I’m not sure how I missed this one off show in the first place as it’s been promoted for a few months now, but with three bands on the bill I’m a huge fan of, it felt like one I shouldn’t miss, so with a last minute ticket purchased, I set off down the M6 for the 1hr 20min journey.
This was my first ever visit to Stoke and The Sugarmill. There was a car park just over the road from the venue that was only £1 for the evening which was a bonus. The venue itself is big enough to feel like a proper venue, but still small enough to get that intimate feeling, and definitely somewhere I’d be happy to visit again to go watch bands.
First up were local band The Hiding Place. In all honesty they’re weren’t really my cup of tea. They had a kind of emo mixed with hair metal/post nu-metal edge that kind of reminded me of the likes of Thrice, Avenged Sevenfold or Bullet for My Valentine. Their lead singer has a serious set of pipes though, his vocal range being really impressive and almost operatic at times, and the set was pretty tight, even if stylistically it wasn’t my thing. If you are a fan of that style of music they are definitely worth checking out.
Next up were JOHN, one of the main reasons I decided to take the trip. I’d seen them earlier in the year in Manchester and really enjoyed them, and have continued to listen to them since. Based in London, they don’t manage to get up north very often, and in fact myself and a friend were even thinking about trying to get across to Europe in the autumn so we can catch them playing on tour with IDLES.
So how are they best described? Loud. Frantic. Raw. I’m still amazed how much noise they make for a two-piece, and I’m still sure no other drumming front man is as energetic as drummer John, whilst guitarist Johnny cooly goes about his business banging out the riffs.
Opener ‘Balfron’ is a great start to the set and sets the pace for the rest of the performance. Still early in the night, and JOHN still being a relatively obscure act (though hopefully more exposure on tour with IDLES will help with this) the crowd are a little tentative with only a few of us gathering near the front. I enjoyed toe tapping and singing along with the set which included a host of songs from their album ‘God Speed In The National Limit’ including personal favourites ‘Squad Vowels’ and ‘Ghost Printer’ (a song I randomly heard over the stereo in a bar in Bristol the other week!), as well as a new song thrown into the mix (…I’m officially crap at paying attention when a band introduces a new song, so no idea what it was called).
Another really enjoyable set from them and one that’s definitely rekindled the pipe dream of getting out on the continent to try and catch them again.
Next were WEIRDS from Leeds. I find it really difficult to try and pigeon hole this band. A quick internet search brings up the term “psych grunge”, which I’m not sure is a real thing, but if it is, WEIRDS are pioneering it. They combine rhythmic bass lines, dark and eery synthesisers and jangly guitars that break out of to grimy, heavy riffs. I’ve seen them play a handful of times now and the musical cacophony is only bettered by the intensity of the performance. Singer Aidan is not averse to taking a wander into the crowd screaming in the faces of his audience whilst stomping around in an unhinged manner. This was the first time I’d experienced the bass player and guitarist also jumping in to the crowd to finish the set.
I’ve only ever seen WEIRDS in support slots (guttingly, I was abroad when they did a headline tour to promote debut album ‘Swarmculture’ last year) so hats off to them for making sure they put on a real show every single time – these guys never just phone it in. ‘Old World Blues’ and ‘Phantom’ stand out for me as the best mosh-alongers, though I do love the changes of pace and dance beats used in ‘Valley of Vision’, and ‘Weird Sun’ is becoming the customary set closer that sees the performance get more chaotic.
They seem to have been a little quiet of late, so was great to see them back out performing. I’m looking forward to more from these guys in the future.
And so on to Pulled Apart By Horses. By all accounts this was to be the last PABH headline show before they go in to hiding to put together album five. I’ve been a fan since their debut album, but it took until last year and the release of fourth album ‘The Haze’ for me to actually see them perform. This was my fourth time watching them since then though. It really is a cracking album and it’s a testament to it that most of their set comes from it. ‘The Haze’, ‘The Big What If’, ‘Hotel Motivation’, ‘Flash Lads’ and ‘Prince Of Meats’ all get an outing. There are nods to their older material too with ‘V.E.N.O.M.’ and ‘Lizard Baby’ from their respective second and third albums. That first, eponymous album was for me one of THE albums to reignite the British alt rock and underground scene, so I was really glad to see songs from it performed also with ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’, ‘Meat Balloon’ (again! …they played it at Liverpool Calling and I thought it was gonna be a one off) and iconic set closer ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ all being played.
Again, every time I see PABH play they seem to put in so much energy. Guitarist James Brown is like a coiled spring that periodically explodes around the stage, whilst frontman Tom Hudson is also a really animated performer head banging and contorting his body in time to the music. Hudson is another frontman who seems to like spending time in the crowd, but tonight was the first time I didn’t see this happen, as the Stoke crowd were noticeably subdued, unfortunately not seeming in the mood to reciprocate the energy on the stage. There was no barrier between the stage and the crowd, yet strangely a weird little pocket developed that kind of disconnected the band from the audience. Especially during ‘Meat Balloon’, a song I love losing my sh*t to, I tried to gee people up and try and get people more in to the gig, but it wasn’t to be. Are all Stoke crowds like that? Or did I just catch them on an off night?
Ultimately it didn’t spoil the show for me. I can happily go in to my own little moshing bubble when I’m listening to heavy music I really love, but gigs where the crowd connect both with the band and with each other do definitely leave you feeling more fulfilled at the end of the night.
So it sounds like this will be my last chance for a PABH fix for a while. I’ll await news of album five eagerly, and hoping there’ll be more to come from the WEIRDS and JOHN camps too.
As for Stoke, I’m sure I’ll be back. The Sugarmill seems a really decent gig space and if they can continue to attract line ups like this, I doubt I’ll be able to stay away, but c’mon Stoke peeps, sort your sh*t out and get up for it!!!