Thursday, March 24, 2005

Three Pronged Attack

The Rakes/Vatican DC/Battle, Bar Academy, Birmingham, Tuesday March 22 2005.

It's been near enough 12 months since '22 Grand Job' first came out, so are The Rakes just going over old ground or do they indeed live up to their recent billing as 'London's most under-rated new band'? And does 'London's most under-rated band' just mean that they're the least-hyped most-hyped band around on the scene, or does that little epithet actually mean anything? Dead Kenny decides to do some digging...

In an effort to stem the recent tide of missing support bands, Dead Kenny enlists the professional chauffeuring services of Gisbourne to get him to the show on time. And it almost works, with it being Battle stations the minute we enter the half-full venue, and by the time Dead Kenny has secured his first pint his toes are tapping already to the London four-piece's seductive web of hooks, riffs and melodies. Lumped in by the must-try-harder NME with those Joy Division-wannabes like Editors; The Departure and Apartment, Gisbourne is much more on the money when he shuffles his mapbook away for long enough to note some distinct Cure influences. Dead Kenny would also throw in Bloc Party as another useful reference point, but with tunes as strong as these, Battle could well do a 'Bravery' and ascend the heights despite rather than because of their (becoming-stale) influences. They're so good they attract quite an, um, following, amongst the ladies in the audience, despite the fact that none of them are above four foot tall (although the view from the bottom of my beerglass might be slightly distorting). 'Isabelle', the first single from the pocket Battle, ships from April 25 on the eerily-prescient Fierce Panda label. Pre-order!

No interval crowdwatch this week as your correspondent's attention is transfixed by a stunning cleavage directly ahead of him, Dead Kenny not of course having seen so much flesh since the Showgirls Special Edition DVD came out. Even Gisbourne can't help remarking that you don't see a set of headlights like that in an indiebar every week. She's just about to use her cameraphone to send the evidence of two lecherous, drooling idiots over to her friends when Vatican DC enter the fray with that agitated art-school punk-rock thing they do. Dead Kenny has to be honest and say he knows nothing about this quintet other than that they won some Battle Of The Bands contest run by smug Kiwi beardo Zane Lowe, but they're certainly energetic enough to get the Pope mobile. The NME (yes, them again) have described VDC as 'The Libertines on viagra' which is probably their cack-handed 'X is the new Y on hard drugs' formulaic approach to explaining that the band sound like The Clash on good form rather than those sloppy throwaway tracks favoured for reheating by crackhead tabloid types. Although occasionally we get glimpses of Vatican DC's 'art school' roots, such as when one of the guitarists has to cover his mouth to stop himself giggling at how angry his backing-vocals are sounding. On the whole, though, the band perform with fiery conviction, channelled aggression and contagious shoutiness. Given the right producer, in fact, they might just be the future of British rock 'n' roll...or failing that, at least as big as Campag Velocet. Might even have to start listening to Zane Lowe, and Gisbourne is so impressed he's made a bandanna out of the bookmark in his A-Z, and is punching the air in a suitably agitated fashion.

There's then a long wait for The Rakes to return from gardening leave (aka the Wetherspoons pub across the road), and when they do finally emerge they seem keen to impress us that they're not going to be with us for long (30-35 mins. max, not really up to scratch) before they have to bale out. There's nothing like getting your excuses in early, is there? If they'd advise us they're going to perform several songs at barnstorming speed which kind of run into each other before they pick up the quality with a final medley of 'hits' (the aforementioned '22 Grand Job' and 'Strasbourg') we could have all gone home and they'd have saved us the trouble. Well, OK, that's a bit harsh. Maybe. The Rakes aren't that much of a drag, but on tonight's showing Dead Kenny doesn't feel the band enjoys the same range of songwriting that their supports are able to offer, and as a consequence the tunes do tend to blur into each other and, between-song banter apart, he can't make out enough of the lyrics to make a decision on whether or not the lead singer really is the Jarvis Cocker of the New Cross scene. The Rakes do, however, make for a lively, entertaining and popular climax to a stupendously strong line-up, and on record they might loosen up a little more and allow some of the humour to spread through, but on the basis of this evening's concert they're not quite able to sweep the floor with their rivals. Having said that, Gisbourne confirmed that the earth did indeed move for him, so the collective judgement is to sit on the fence while others do the hard work with The Rakes.


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