Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up marked the 10th anniversary of their debut LP Hidden World,Getintothis’ Paul Higham watched a band revived by their early work.
Liverpool last saw Fucked Up during a now-infamous 2015 Sound City performance at Bramley Moore Dock. Their set that night was marred by singer Damian being drawn into a kerfuffle in the crowd and reacting to a cowardly assault on a couple, before being set upon himself, returning to the stage bruised, undeniably shaken and understandably angry. While recounting the story tonight amid an altogether friendlier and more welcoming audience it is clear that he bears Liverpool no ill will – their prompt return marking clear evidence of that – yet memories of that night have taken some time to fade.
If memory further serves, that night saw an augmented Fucked Up, numerically swollen from their core line-up, the effect of which was somewhat dilutive. Their sound was sprawling and lacked the visceral power and urgency that characterises their most arresting work.
Too often whole album shows are derided, and rightly so. Recorded music and live music are very different beasts and entirely separate endeavours. Trying to replicate a record in a live arena can be soulless and anodyne. The magic of a live performance lies in its unpredictability and its capacity to surprise – playing a whole album front to back removes that in an instant.
Yet there are advantages, as Fucked Up discovered tonight. In revisiting their first release there is a sense of a band revived, a band reenergised and revitalised. Trimmed down and focused it felt like a rediscovery of what made them so ferocious in the first instance. Playing Hidden World they delivered a taut and tightly coiled set of on-the-money hardcore punk that was rapturously received by their equally hardcore fans. There was little fat here. No bloated excesses. Any notions of expansive soundscapes rightly eschewed.
The choice of venue helped too – indeed whoever was responsible for the switch from The Invisible Wind Factory to EBGBs merits a well-deserved pat on the back. The newly refurbished basement bar has hosted live music as part of the Liquidation club nights but this is one of its first proper gigs – and boy did it suit the mood and the occasion to perfection. Its low-slung, vault-ceilinged, brick-tunnel structure seems designed to trap the music. Sound-waves have no escape; with no space above for them to drift they have little option but to pummel the audience into submission. And Fucked Up are only too aware of its potential.
Shudderingly loud, everything seemed bigger than on record. Faster. More Urgent. Blasted out with greater force. It turned an already intense record up a notch. All the while the band emphasised the musicality at its core. There are genuine melodies and songs afoot here. Underneath the bluster and growled vocals lies a lightness, sweet nuggets of catchily irresistible pop gems. It is this juxtaposition of the extreme with an innate pop sensibility that makes them so compulsive listening and viewing.
Two things are also apparent from their performance. Firstly there is a huge bond between fan and band. Lines are blurred. Damian is at one with, and often part of, the crowd who in turn respond by bellowing lyrics down the microphone in a symbiotic union of artist and audience. The participative audience is a joy, feeding off the band’s energy while also reflecting it back at them in a frenetically frenzied display of unbridled enthusiasm. A mass of steaming, sweaty bodies, all flailing limbs and terror-inducing crowd-surfing that risked damage to heads, lighting rigs, speakers or, indeed, all three.
Again the venue helped. There was no heavy handed security to dampen spirits and police enjoyment nor where there any barriers creating an artificial dividing line between band and audience. Health and safety is important, yet so is ensuring a sense of freedom and fun. Too often the former impinges on the latter. Not tonight. Not at EBGBs, and it was much the better for it.
Secondly, Fucked Up amply demonstrate that there need not be a positive correlation between hardcore punk and aggression. That they eschew the unfettered machismo and the overtly posturing masculinity without watering down the fire or vitality is to their absolute credit. They do prove, however, that they can do righteous anger. Taking the opportunity to throw their support behind the Black Lives Matter campaign, they end their set with a politically-charged Police. Notwithstanding, the atmosphere of mutual affection in the room is intoxicating; thankfully, on their return to Liverpool, Fucked Up made love not war.
Before Fucked Up there were three fast-rising Merseyside bands on which to feast. While all were enjoyable and worthy inclusions on the bill, indulge us in a little moan. Three support acts seemed excessive and unnecessary with the effect being that Fucked Up‘s stage time was delayed from the scheduled start time of 10pm meaning that the band did not finish until the clock had ticked past 11:30pm. People voted with their feet, not on account of the band’s performance on stage, but merely to get their last train or bus. There seemed little enthusiasm for a late finish on a Tuesday. As a result Fucked Up‘s set was disappointingly played out to an ever-thinning room, with little more than the keenest moshers remaining at the end.
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Salt the Snail opened the night with a performance most in-keeping with the headline act. Gnarly hardcore-inflected and often with its lyrical tongue firmly in its cheek, they had a nonetheless self-deprecatory charm. Song-titles were pulled out from a cup at random by audience members creating an air of spontaneity to the performance as the singer paced among the crowd with faux-menace.
Musically the group had a lot to recommend. Guitarist and drummer made a mighty racket that belied a complexity of structure. Sand-down the rough edges add a spoonful of self confidence and there is a real band in the making here for sure. Maybe next time they can be prize enough, although if it is the thought that counts then the Peperamis thrown into the crowd at the end of their set (“no one goes home empty handed“) were a nice touch, if not quite to everyone’s taste.
Lack of confidence is not something that you could rightly level at Ohmns who provide further indication that they are one of Liverpool’s most promising emerging talents. It is clear from tonight that they are developing and honing their craft. Opening with short sharp shock of garage-punk, the group come into their own when they give themselves space. Experimenting with form and tempo, their heady mix of garage-grunge with propulsive krautrock rhythms is nothing short of captivating, particularly when they lock in on to a repetitive groove.
Strange Collective feel like they have been around for an age and it shows on this performance. Where Ohmnsremain raw around the edges Strange Collective appear immediately more practised. Their off-kilter, warped psychedelia twists with a sense of understatement and restraint. This is a band that knows what works for them and the resulting sound is glorious.
They’ve reined in the vocal yelps but still know when to let rip – proving that they can whip up a psychedelic whirlwind like few others around. It is a compelling set that sits somewhere between the quirkily frazzled pop of White Fence and the full on garage howl of Thee Oh Sees, but which provides every indication that they might just be ready to step out of such illustrious shadows and build their own identity.