Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015

Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015Catfish and the Bottlemen @ The Institute, 28th March 2015

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I have not looked forward to a gig as much as this for twenty years (since Radiohead in 1994 at the Wulfrun Hall).  Catfish lead singer Van McCann was still in nappies then, as is most of the audience at The Institute tonight or not even born in a lot of cases.  It makes me feel old, because I am, but it is also like a shot in the arm; knowing great music can still be created by new generations gives me a massive buzz, like a new lease of life.  I have been playing the Catfish and the Bottlemen debut album ‘The Balcony’ over and over for what seems like an eternity and cannot wait to see how it translates into a live performance.

Fluttering arpeggios and Fleet Foxes harmonies matched with exceptional musicianship greet me as I enter a rammed Institute. It is the support band and after a few similar songs, they fall for the old trick of ending with a song that gets louder and louder. Hmmm. Good; but no manly balls.

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After a short break, due to an Institute curfew, four pairs of manly balls hit the stage, led by ultimate front man Van McCann, whose confidence is palpably bursting.  Catfish and the Bottlemen then launch into an hour long set that never lags. It is like a greyhound: any fat or excess weight has been worked out and worked off until all that is left is lean and mean.  And despite the taste of success in the band’s mouth, Van (as he is the only one of the four that says anything), is still humble in the face of such adoration. He is happy to now be playing the main Institute room having played the other smaller rooms in the venue over the last few years. I don’t think somehow they will ever come back here – it is just too small for them now.

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I cannot fault the performance – both musically and on a showmanship level. They power through the debut album ‘The Balcony’ like it is second nature but retain the passion that can sometimes be lost when a band has to play songs written and recorded 2 years ago over and over again.  The audience are in full voice throughout and Van works them as his master plan unfolds – he has most likely dreamed of seeing crowds lapping up his hook laden choruses since before he was shaving. I have to say I am so fucking chuffed for him.  In an earlier interview he has said honestly:  “I’m a dead simple lad. I smoke fags and drink tea. I write my songs, I get in the van, I sing as good as I can. The people that get us are people working shit jobs or on the dole, like I was.”  I do think his audience is changing, judging by the people I see around me and the sea of iPhone6’s – not too many people on JSA in here I would imagine, and not that many out of school either.

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Van McCann and the band have faced some criticism from certain quarters for both emulating guitar music from a period when guitar music wasn’t that good (The ‘stupid’ Guardian with a 2 out of 5 stars review; NME boo as always; and The Skinny –‘indie dead’? No) and writing songs about being a teenager and enjoying getting drunk, smoking secretly and discovering sex (The Upcoming).  The thing is, young bands should be writing songs about this stuff; it is life!  And it is good because teenagers need to know others feel this way, and old men like me can happily remember what it feels like to be young again, just.  The same journalists who badmouth Catfish and the Bottlemen for their immature outlook forget that rock n roll should always be about sex, drinking and dancing; otherwise you might as well listen to Yes, or Genesis, or Muse.  For teenagers, it feels like the world revolves around them, and while that delusion continues, let them enjoy the ride, before the hum drum of real life kicks in.

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Highlight of the set for me is a storming rendition of ‘Cocoon’ with 2000 plus voices screaming out, “Fuck it if they talk.  Fuck it if they try and get to us” (as the crowd surfing begins tentatively – the venue says no, but Van says yes).  “Cause I’d rather go blind, than let you down.”  A beautiful sentiment, stated (as with a lot of Van’s lyrics), simply and straight from the gut. ‘Pacifier’ and ‘Fallout’ also lift the crowd after a strangely muted beginning for ‘Rango’. ‘Kathleen’ seems a little flatter than I thought it would be, but after blasting through ’26’ and ‘Business’, it is almost impossible to keep up the blistering pace.  Van in particular does not stop moving throughout the set and his long locks bounce and fall, illuminated by a bank of the brightest fog lamps I have ever witnessed – I damaged my retinas looking at the partial eclipse last week and this is making them no better.

‘Hourglass’ brings the tempo and volumes down temporarily as it is a totally solo acoustic version (something Van is spectacular at on all the album songs – check out youtube for them).  There are still those disrespectful idiots around, who believe this is the point of the show to talk loudly about stuff they are reading on Facebook, but in the main, the crowd are transfixed by the performance.

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‘Tyrants’ closes the show and I guess is their one track that can be described as anthemic.  Even on the album you feel the shift in style on this track and it translates better live.  It is as if Catfish and the Bottlemen are maturing already into that tricky second album phase.  I believe the sooner they get off this tour and leave behind the hype, the better it will be for them, and ultimately their audience.  There are bands that are hyped and bands where the hype follows in their wake: Catfish fall into the second category. They have worked and worked, and with some named DJs offering their support (and now with Island Records to push them on) the Catfish name has grown, because when people actually hear what is on offer it is dirty and real and honest and without pretence. A rare find in today’s music business: working class lads making a decent racket.  They have the ambition and skill to end up as big as that other massive working class band from Manchester (and I understand Oasis have been an influence on the young Van), I only hope they don’t end up regurgitating the same old songs like that band did – The Bottlemen are so much better than that.

So, London next and then the world. Next time they visit Birmingham it will undoubtably be in a big barn-like arena, I am so happy and lucky to have been able to witness them in so an intimate a venue as the Institute. Good luck lads.

 

Setlist:

Rango
Pacifier
Sidewinder
Fallout
26
Business
Kathleen
Homesick (extended outro by audience)
Hourglass (Van solo)
Cocoon
Tyrants

Review: Alan Neilson

Photographs: Ian Dunn

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