By: Charlie Gardner
Photos: Charlie Gardner
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Concorde 2, Brighton | September 27, 2016
Brighton is unmistakeably a Rock Town; but that’s an epithet open to many interpretations. Ask anyone in the street here how Brighton and Rock go together and you’re as likely to get the response Graham Greene as you are Green Door Store.
And then there’s confectionery… Somewhere out in the Lanes, legend has it, is a rock shop where you can purchase the dentine-decaying delicacy with absolutely any name of your choice written through it. And when it comes to rock stars who’ve had a Brighton moment or two there’s a deserving A–W who’ve been commemorated in this way: from ABBA to (Amy) Winehouse.
But rocks can be treacherous, and for a while now I’ve thought that Brighton is not always an easy place to play. The crowd can be apathetic and unresponsive – occasionally even downright rude – and when half empty, large venues like the Dome and the All Saints become intimidating, deadly spaces.
So it’s with some trepidation that I find myself in Concorde 2 (capacity 1000) on a Monday night as God Damn take the stage to a crowd of barely 100, no more than a dozen of whom have pushed up to the front. Even with headliners of the magnitude of Red Fang, I have an uneasy feeling that this gig has come a week too soon to benefit from the surge in the massive student population that drives Brighton’s music scene. On this occasion, though, most of my fears are misplaced; and 15 minutes into the set, the pavilion is a third full and rising.
This is the second time I’ve seen God Damn in little over a year; but this evening, at least, they fall somewhat short of the storming support they provided for Marmozets, last summer. In truth, this is a band finding their feet a little after the bolt-from-the-blue announcement that, with the addition of James on keyboards and guitars, they have gone back to their original, trio formation.
It’s quite a step-change, with the consequence that nothing on stage feels as tight as it should: too many longueurs between tracks, and Thom Edward’s uncertainty when addressing the audience, compounding the sense that they’re not firing on all three cylinders, just yet.
Curiously, too, there’s barely any plug for the new album, Everything Ever, released only days before… So let me commend it to you – it’s a great album. And while tonight’s set doesn’t do it justice, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed on tour, especially when you have the jaw-dropping stick work of Ash Weaver (a player for whom the French word for drum kit, batterie, was surely intended) at the core of the group.
The magnificent closer, ‘Vultures’, is a reminder of how seductive the pile-driving, sexy, noise rock they made as duo was. But what of the future?
This is a band that that have been on the cusp for sometime, now; but re-inventing themselves as a power-trio may well be a case of taking one step back before they can take two forwards and finally make Brighton rock. Only time will tell…
It’s 8:30 pm, and three-quarters full, the Concorde is buzzing and resplendent with a variety of metal chic that would rival The Dev on a Friday night – confirmation, were any necessary, that there is more than a grain of truth to the cliché that Brighton is ‘Camden by the Sea’! And proving that even a spark from an opener is enough to light a beacon, Torche step up to play a nigh faultless middle set.
This is a band with a steady line-up who have more than done their ‘10,000 hours’ and it shows in a perfectly pitched programme of favourites from Meanderthal, Harmonicraft and Restarter; an effortless 40-minute arc, interrupted only by an unintentionally hilarious interjection by frontman, Steve Brooks. ‘Good evening, Brighton!’ he begins. ‘And welcome to the first night of our tour in the United…’ at which point the jet-lag induced aphasia jumps in and ‘Kingdom’ never quite makes it out!
The hilarity amongst the band quickly subsides and they launch into a dazzling unbroken 30-minute segue that starts, aptly, with ‘Healer’ and ends with Restarter favourite, ‘Undone’: nine tracks of irradiant, irrepressible and irresistible bass-driven, groove-laden stoner and sludge.
Brooks is a shy frontman, only taking centre stage on one occasion, and happy to give the spotlight to bassist Jonathan Nuñez. Confident and charismatic, Nuñez knows how to work a crowd, bestriding the stage with that leggy triple-jumper stance, so beloved of John Baizely of Baroness, before breaking into pogomania.
Underlining the sheer invention of the set, they close with a track that’s usually an opener, ‘Annihilation Affair’. No coda could have been more appropriate: in a little over half an hour Torche have flame-grilled the hall. ‘We’ve heard that Brighton rocks!’ quips Brooks exultantly. Maybe not quite yet, but it’s certainly bouncing delightfully…
From the moment Red Fang take the stage, circling the drummer and solemnly exchanging handshakes like a parley of old-school preachers, you feel certain you’re going to love this band. And sure enough, they neither disappoint the devout nor the first-time worshippers, varying the dynamic with four tracks from their new album, Only Ghosts, mixed in with plenty of old faithfuls.
Opening with ‘Hank is Dead’ and ‘1516’, they wait till after ‘Throw Up’ before debuting ‘Not For You’, with clean vocals from bassist Aaron Beam that are much grimier round the edges than the over-polished ones on Only Ghosts, and much the better for it. Perhaps unsure of the reaction, they choose to segue into the crowd-pleasing ‘Blood and Cream’, at which point the set shifts into overdrive. And by the time they hit halfway with ‘Wires’ and ‘The Shadows’, the joint is jumping: the mosh that was minding its own business in the right-hand corner suddenly shoots across the entire width of the dance floor, the beers fly, and I’m forced to duck for cover and holster the Nikon.
After that, they reel it in a little; and though the pace flags momentarily with newbie ‘No Hope’, they wind it up again through ‘Flies’ and ‘Thirteen’ before hitting the heights with ‘The Smell of Sound’, a monumental anthem and Only Ghosts’ best track by some margin – expansive and orchestral with influences of doom, punk, metal, prog and psychedelia, while mesmeric riffing and twin pronged-vocals (Bryan Giles’ Lemmy-like gruffness providing the perfect counterpoint for Beam’s sheen) overwhelm you in a wall of sound that suggests this will become their song-signature of the future.
It’s a majestic climax to which the only coda can be an up-tempo oldie. And they take their bow with the whole hall pogoing to ‘Prehistoric Dog’. Curiously they eschew an encore, even though there’s plenty of time for ‘Sharks’, at least. It’s a tad disappointing, but doesn’t diminish the deliciously warm, shot-of-good-bourbon feeling, these amiable, self-effacing Oregon snake charmers send you home with. And when, to a fan, everyone present holds up the metal horns for the audience selfie, it’s clear that they’ve prompted a C2 measure of affection shown to only a very few.
Yes, Brighton really did rock, tonight. And somewhere out there, deep in the Diagon Alleys that make up the Lanes, is a stick of peppermint candy, almost certainly marinaded in Jack Daniels No 7, with the words ‘Red Fang’ stamped into its heart.