“HALLOWEEN” – Live at JT Soar by Grey HairsRelease date: August 7, 2020
Label: Gringo Records
A live album. The thoughtless bastards. Live in the time of corona. I’ve already scrapped several rambling paragraphs about missing gigs, why streams are crap and all that blether. You know the sort of thing, awful lot of it about at the moment. Grey Hairs didn’t make a live album to carry the expectations of a nation whose stages have fallen silent, they just hoped not to embarrass themselves. Students of rock, they’re undoubtedly familiar with the rule that the fourth album should be double live. An absurd idea rooted in classic rock indulgence and sometimes erroneously known as the Foghat principle. Aware of the potential hubris of such a move they initially promoted it by telling the tales of their three most disastrous gigs. It’s a fun read (you can find it at the Gringo website) and arguably peaks with singer James dislocating his shoulder during the first song a couple of years ago.
There are no such disasters here and, things being what they are, I imagine they’re happier than they could have hoped to have captured the band in fine form on the eve of an unexpected year off. “Halloween” was recorded last October 31st at multipurpose DIY space JT Soar and splits evenly between songs from their last couple of albums, both of which were also made there. It’s hard not to see this as a factor in how great sounding it is. Avoiding the grandstanding bloat of recording the biggest gig they ever played the result is more like one of those Maida Vale Peel sessions in front of a small audience. It’s crisp and clear but charged with ‘in the moment’ energy, in a certain light it could be their best record.
Track selection wise it’s a pretty straightforward affair. There’s nothing here from their first album which seems a bit of a shame but perhaps it’s too far in the past. For a band with a mixed history of playing other people’s songs I’m surprised there’s no room for a cover version either, not even one of their cracking Roky Erickson ones as a nod to the date of the recording. On the plus side there are no drastic or dubious reworkings of material, lengthy solos or chunks of audience participation to wait out. What you get is something like Grey Hairs in purest form. There’s a great accompanying video for ‘Hydropona’ made on the night, with what looks like a hundred cameras, for all your up-close-and-personal, there-in-the-room needs.
Fans will have had delicious purple vinyl copies for ages, it feels like this album has been out for months, but it’s only just been officially released. Nobody knows what day it is anymore do they? ‘Ghost In Your Own Life’ is the tune that seems to most resonate with this summer’s strangeness. From its title to lines like “We’re all just screaming through the thick of it… You and I, you and I will get over this.” Their lyrics are anxious impressionist slices of internal monologue. Troubling thoughts and circling worries, full of sharp phrases that roll around James’s brain and then worm their way into yours. He’s a weirdly intense front man.
In a way James Finlay’s unique onstage presence embodies the idea of the band. Within garage punk and noise rock there’s a tradition of singers who give ‘big’ cathartic performances of unstoppable expression or psychosis. A theatre of chaos with a mild charge of danger that projects out into the crowd. With James all that energy turns inwards, the confusion and anger in the songs churning within him as if he were going to implode. Body language communicating as much as the words, tense arms almost in spasm, his demons don’t get cast out so much as exhausted as he paces the stage. Thinking about it like this, it’s no surprise he managed to dislocate his own shoulder while singing.
Grey Hairs refine garage through grunge with a maturity that puts them beyond the youthful delusion that your anger counts for much or offers any kind of real agency in the world. Still burning with fury and frustration about life’s indignities they are not defeated nor acting out a charade of youth but kicking out the jams in more comfortable shoes. One for your list next bandcamp Friday.