The Murder Capital + The Cosmics + Bad Girlfriend @ Sunflower Lounge, 5th February 2019

The late pick-up on this gig combined with a very busy weekend meant that I was unprepared and unresearched for the bill this evening.  All I knew was that the one track on a streaming service that I found from The Murder Capital would be all I had to base my anticipation on.  However, thanks to a young lady blogger/writer from Dublin who I’d met in consecutive years at a music festival in Portugal (both times stood next to each other at the bar!) I was able to get an opinion on them. “They’re great! One of our local unknown gems.” Having played a matter of days ago at a festival in Utrecht which is a showcase for Europe’s festival bookers she is convinced that we’ll all be “…sure to be seeing a lot more of these guys this summer.” 

So, given the tip from someone with almost impeccable taste and local knowledge, I arrived at a packed Sunflower Lounge just in time to catch the last two numbers by the first support, Bad Girlfriend.  I instantly wish I’d known when I left work that Wolves were playing at home and may be then I’d have been home early, wouldn’t have missed the train and would be able to tell you more about these guys other than what a shambolically elegant racket they make. Lovely guitar sound and an excellent front man.  Fast and loose wins me over and puts them on my pile of must catch again acts and if the rest of the set is as good then I’ll be a happy punter.

The Cosmics are a local band that seem to have slipped under my radar. Why, I don’t know, because as I watch them set-up I think I can imagine exactly what they sound like and it’s right up my Nugget and Pebble strewn street! Looking like some vague cross between a Russ Meyer “vixen” minus the sleaze and Poison Ivy of the Cramps with an Amy Winehouse beehive, lead vocalist and bassist, Erin sets up her gear whilst eyeing the crowd with a calm smile on her lips. Her band mates look equally 60s cool and hip, and already I’m excited as hell.

They don’t let me down either. I’d have happily accepted a set of basic 60s Garage-Punk straight from one of the many fine Pebbles compilations. However, add in some rock’n’roll guitar licks, Ramones style thrashy rhythms, some very fine drumming occasionally veering into Surf territory, solid bass lines and some reverb heavy lo-fi vocals and you have a head of steam that means the train kept a rolling right through the set.  With high points like recent single ‘Trust is Blind’ which is an epic builder moving seamlessly from The Shangri Las to The Heartbreakers to The Stooges any band will have me eating out of their hands. As they leave the stage I could have left the gig and gone home happy. 

So, at this point in the evening you could be forgiven for expecting that the bar was set high and that the visitors to Birmingham would be a disappointing close to the show. Well, read on my friend…

As the band walk through the packed crowd and step on stage it’s an immediately striking image. A bizarre cross between early 80s students and the scruffy urchin Punk look of The Undertones.  Meanwhile singer James McGovern looking like a Brooklyn boxer reminds me of a picture from the 80s of Rollins and MacKaye standing against a wall in Washington, cloth trousers pulled high above the waist, shirts tucked in and attitude hanging out!  

There’s a palpable tension that hovers around the stage for a good few songs at the start of the set; no smiles, just a line of guitar wielding Dublin street scrappers staring into the crowd.  McGovern’s gaze flitting between thousand-yard stare and intense eye contact with the crowd.  The dual guitarists bookend the stage, one looking intense and the other in beanie hat looking like he’s straight from a shift on the docks, surround the audience with a choppy, intense and sometimes feedback drenched swirl of sound. Between them is a strong solid bass played by an 80s football hooligan meets 50s working class man. It sounds weird, I know, but it works. It also feels like image is one of three things that seem integral to the stagecraft of the band… the intense sound and the brotherhood of the band being the other two. 

Initially, I can barely put my finger on any influence in their sound. It’s definitely right there between the Punk and Post Punk of Northern England circa ‘79, almost somewhere between Gang Of Four and Joy Division but brought dragging and screaming into the present. The space, bass and the scratchy staccato of GoF and the simple lines with unrivalled intensity of Joy Division given the working class Dublin make-over. It’s striking and proves impossible to tear your eyes away from.

At around the half way mark a song declared as being about ‘keeping your friends close’ is opened and closed by a bass intro/outro that works incredibly well to start a build up to a powerful opus of a song. It also acts as the tension breaker.  The band hug and offer words of what looks like support to each other.  It leaves me wanting to know the story behind it though I wonder if that is for us to know or whether it is some cathartic inwards looking personal therapy not for the audience. It’s a beautiful moment and some of that chest out bravado seems to melt away with the rest of the set being played for us rather than at us.

I stand there throughout the set, almost mesmerised by the frontman and the connection between himself and each of the other members. If the term unit could be used for a band then it surely applies to The Murder Capital. They play for each other and look as solid and tight as any band that I can recall seeing. They work together to lift a song, carry it and then throw it at you at the perfect moment of heightened tension. Songs explode into thrashy feedback affairs with solid bass and heavy on the toms tribal sounding drum grooves.

The typical Birmingham crowd only comes alive for the final song. “It’s your last chance to dance” tells McGovern signalling the only track on a particular streaming service, “Feeling Fades” which mixes IDLES with Joy Division in one intense but danceable track. Birmingham obliges on the dancing front and as the music fades and the band leave the stage, I guarantee you that the feeling most definitely does not fade.

Here’s the money shot. I’ve seen many bands in my fifty years. I’ve gone from teenage discoverer, through to seeing all my heroes (mostly) then done the going to as many gigs as I could thing where I went to see all the latest that the music press said I should. I’ve gone back to watching my favourite legacy bands then started digging out the weirdest most obscure bands I could to become the coolest gig-goer. I’ve been a discerning gig goer only seeking out quality gigs. I’ve seen a shed load of legends. Iggy, James Brown, Johnny Thunders, Black Flag, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, The Beatnigs, heck, I’ve even seen my heroes The Clash. 

Wanna know something? By the time I was on the train home, I’d already text a load of people and all told ‘em the same thing. “They may not be my favourite band yet. They probably won’t ever be my favourite bands. But right now… The Murder Capital are the BEST band I’ve ever seen!”  

Reviewer: Mark Veitch

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