Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017

Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017Cabbage, The Blinders, Queen Zee and the Sasstones @ Slade Rooms, 20 October 2017

I’ve been going to gigs for a long time; almost forty years.  There is a subtle shift happening now, which unnerves me a little.  I am still not sure whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a natural evolution in how up and coming artists work.

A long time ago, before the internet, bands played small venues, usually in front of small audiences (this part has not changed).  Those bands normally had some badly recorded demos for sale on cassette, and later CD, for a couple of pounds.  Generally these tapes were homemade, duplicated and unmastered on a hifi stereo deck, hand made with folded covers and of a pretty poor quality; few of these tapes probably exist to this day.

As I watch the bands at the Slade Rooms tonight, and their ‘merch’ tables, I see the seismic shift in how the industry works.  The two support bands do not sell their music at all: one sells their T-shirts, the other sells T-shirts and lighters.  The main act sells a lot of T-shirts (my personal favourite being ‘Cock Piss Cabbage’, which unless you are aware of Coogan’s Partridge will make no sense at all) and a CD and a 10” vinyl – maybe this is a way of diverting fans to download sites, so all sales are counted.

Furthermore, the merchandise is sold by the bands themselves.  It is very odd to see the transformation from star on stage to sales assistant in the blink of an eye.  This is exaggerated by the outrageously wild and brilliant performances and their contrasting obsequious behaviour offstage… and I don’t like it.  I want my rockstars to be obnoxious and arrogant and distant, on drugs or blind drunk, not an oh so humble Uriah Heep wringing their hands in the hope of a T-shirt sale.  It’s like every band has not only graduated from music college mastering composition and performance, but public relations as well – the art of smiling graciously and listening politely to the same stock phrases night after night.  I watched both support acts do this and my heart bled – these intelligent, spirited, intense artists are being reduced to mere shadows.

The mystery has gone.

Now you may be thinking that I’m giving the bands a hard time, but this criticism is not levelled at the bands at all – it is our relationship with the artist that I am questioning.  Support the music by buying it; support the musician by going to the gig and screaming and dancing; support the artist by allowing them the journey, free from commercial entanglements.  If we don’t do this, decent independent grass roots music will not endure.

And now for the gig:

Liverpool’s Queen Zee and the Sasstones are a blur of high tempo punk rock riffs and political messages.  The lead singer Zee Zapata-Jones looks stunning, like Daryl Hannah at the end of Blade Runner, with black make up smeared across both eyes.  The energy bursting from the stage from each band member is palpable as it is infectious.  I love the dual lead singer’s use of a skateboard on a keyboard stand for the vocal effect box – these small quirks are things that leave a lasting impression.  That punk DIY attitude permeates their performance and is raw and unpretentious.  There is an air of Hedwig and the Angry Inch about the band, where they mix gender politics, rock and a dry sense of humour.  There is probably some work needed to sharpen up lyrically but their ‘be yourself’ message is a positive one and their sound is tight, loud and a great start to tonight’s proceedings.  They may not be the best band from Liverpool at the moment (She Drew the Gun or The Mekano Set should take that accolade) but being second to those bands is high praise indeed.

 

The next band on, is the band I actually came to see: The Blinders. I have followed their progress over the last year and read countless reviews about their spirited and wild live shows.  Tonight shows them in a professional light, where nothing is broken and no veins opened: very disappointing.  However, as a support act you are obligated to warm up an audience, not leave them knocked out.  And this they do masterfully.

The Blinders are a three piece from Doncaster and have a punk psychedelic sound that is a subtle mixture of The Doors, The Birthday Party, live Joy Division and Arctic Monkeys.  Their confidence on stage is scary: no fear at all.  When singer Thomas puts his guitar down in the middle of ‘Swine’ and starts screaming Willy Wonka’s monologue from the crazed boat scene, followed by repeating the line, “There is no hope”, you know that maybe that confidence is fired by having no choice but to be on that stage.  Some artists don’t have the luxury of deciding these things and Thomas’s focused yet manic stage presence is magnetic.  Bass player Charlie and drummer Matt are so solid it allows Thomas room to rule the stage.  And rule he does, at times like a caged tiger, pacing up and down.  He also wears black eye make up across his eyes, but instead of looking like a sci-fi character as Queen Zee did an hour before, he looks more like Martin Sheen at the end of Apocalypse Now – wild and unpredictable.

The audience, which is made up of two distinct groups, a dozen or so under 18’s and a throng of over 35’s, do not take long to feed off the energy from the stage and burst into life.  Support acts don’t usually start a mosh pit, but the Wolverhampton crowd is soon uncontrollably throwing each other around the floor.

It is so refreshing to see support acts this intense and mindful of their audience; if the band is seen to be working hard on stage, those watching are ignited.  It is clear tonight The Blinders effortlessly light the Slade Room’s touch paper; it is an inferno.  If you want to witness this yourself, they have a headline tour early next year and are coming to Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge on 16 February.  In that small venue, and on that tiny stage, it will be a riot – do not miss it.

The main act tonight is Cabbage from Greater Manchester, who describe themselves as ‘discordant neo post-punk’ and are more infamous than f’mous (sorry, another Coogan-ism) having been the target of a hatchet job by the gutter press earlier this year.  They are known for their sometimes outrageous live shows, but maybe this only happens when an audience fails to react, because tonight the band is just outrageously good and the crowd love every moment.

Cabbage are a rare thing these days, a politically motivated band, mixing songs about the day to day aspects of mundane life, alongside tracks about corrupt governments, terrorism and the sad final death throes of the NHS.  Imagine the Dead Kennedys with Shaun Ryder writing some of their songs.  They actually remind me of a Midlands band from 10 years ago called Miss Halliwell (later Perhower and then The Day Ends), with their sharp, witty yet acerbic lyrics and direct, powerful performances.

They are blessed with having two great frontmen, Lee Broadbent and Joe Martin, who although different in their deliveries, give everything in their performances and the crowd laps it up.  Sometimes having two lead singers can give a band a loss of focus, but Lee and Joe have such distinct styles that give depth to the band’s repertoire; it never gets boring.

They power through tracks from their album ‘Young, Dumb…’ and earlier eps without stopping and the audience moshes throughout.  They may have taken their influences from the more shambolic punk bands like The Fall and Angelic Upstarts, but that doesn’t stop them putting on an energetic, shirtless and faultless show.

I did wonder during Cabbage’s set why the crowd loved them more than the support band The Blinders (who I think are actually better), and I believe it is because Cabbage are a people’s band – a group that young men gravitate towards because they see something of themselves in the band members (I am thinking of groups like the Happy Mondays, or the Pistols, or Oasis), whereas on stage The Blinders are like rockstars (Jim Morrison or The Clash maybe), more serious and seemingly unapproachable, leaving the audience slightly on edge.  Cabbage could be your best mates, which could lead to them reaching mass appeal, or they are simply ignored as jokers or worse, dismissed for appearing to be deliberately outrageous or offensive.

Cabbage do seem to have captured the attention of many already and have signed to Liverpool label Skeleton Key.  However, sadly, they may not be the best band on Skeleton Key, that would be She Drew the Gun.

As a side note, I must stress how my respect for The Blinders grew while Cabbage played their set.  Firstly, Thomas and Charlie watched most of the show standing in the audience (in fact I almost knocked Charlie over when I went to the bar), and secondly, when Cabbage’s set ended and they came off stage, the two Blinders are there applauding them as they head backstage.  They are like sponges, soaking up experience and knowledge from their contemporaries as they study the craft.  I admire their thirst for learning.

The thing I love most about tonight’s gig is that all three bands are not just musically motivated.  There is a strong political influence through all their work.  Their styles are clearly different, but finally we have young musicians with something to say about these dreadful times we are enduring.  The rest of the music industry is happy to ignore the rise of fascism, racism and xenophobia while they party through this austere decade, and now we have a real alternative with something to say.  I just hope that it is allowed to reach a much wider audience.

Review and Photographs: Alan Neilson

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