It’s Valentine’s night in the sweaty box of rock that is the Dragon Bar, and for a few worrying moments it promised to be a pretty lonely one for me in the audience. Luckily my fears were unfounded, as moments later, Birmingham’s dedicated gig-goers started shuffling in from the cold and straight for the bar.
First up was The High Society, strutting onto the stage with the patented Jagger swagger and hedonistic hair-dos to play to what front man Maxi barbed were “the loneliest, ugliest people of Birmingham”. Despite their curious uniform of suit jackets over the usual indie-punk paraphernalia, it was clear these guys liked their drinks straight-up and their sleep when the sun shone.
Ripping into their first song, The High Society showed us what they were all about, spitting buzz-saw vocals over the retro, glammed-up guitars and driving drums. Maxi, prowling the barrier like a seductive scientific experiment gone wrong, twitched and convulsed his way through the set as if plugged in at the mains, adjusting his geeky glasses throughout. Standout track ‘The Stripper’ caught the ear, with it’s hooky chorus and sleazy stomp that shook the bones of all before it. All in all, The High Society should be higher up the bill on another night.
Black Spiders were next up to rouse the crowd, which by this point was growing to a more respectable size but still seemed content to hide in the dark corners. The first thing I noticed about this hairy bunch was the drummer, a beast of a man behind the kit, his black-framed eyes darting manically around the room as he pounded his skins into submission. It was hard to take your eyes off him, chewing his way through the ‘Spiders potent mix of dark, Soundgarden-esque crunch and gravel-in-a-blender wails like a man possessed. ‘Stay Down’ was a particular highlight, as every last decibel was wrenched from their straining guitars. However, a little more variation in pace would have lifted Black Spiders’ set no end.
As Black Spiders left the stage, the crowd emerged from the shadows to await The Datsuns. Launching into ‘Sittin Pretty’, it became obvious the Kiwi quartet were going to show everyone how retro rock should be done; loud, hard and dirty.
Although wild-eyed lead singer and bassist Dolf de Borst has perfected the banshee scream, most of the lyrical content, if it was even attempted, was lost in a sea of sheer distortion and bass, coming out as a series of shrill, barked vowels that just managed to cut through the jungle of noise. However, as the entirely denim-clad guitarist wailed through some reverb-drenched solos swinging sledgehammer riffs into the first row of head bangers, lyrics became a fairly irrelevant concept.
From the off The Datsuns didn’t let the pace drop, powering through some newer tracks like ‘Yeah, Yeah, Just Another Mistake’ , ‘Paranoid People (What’s in Your Head)’, and ‘So Long’, until the volume subsided briefly for slide-guitar stomper ‘Stuck Here for Days’ from their Smoke and Mirrors album.
But it wasn’t until debut-album favourites ‘MF from Hell’ and ‘Harmonic Generator’, that the whole room really stirred into life, provoking foot-stomping, head banging and a lone but enthusiastic full-body freak out by one fan in the centre of the crowd. This momentum was sadly lost though as the band embarked on an extended psychedelic journey through new song ‘Eye of the Needle’. Although it represented a change in pace, it came too late in the set and the droning bass line could not keep the interest of a crowd still buzzing from the two previous songs.
Ending on ‘Who Are You Stomping Your Foot For?’, it is clear the crowd are stomping for The Datsuns, who seemingly have one objective; to rock everyone’s socks off. Although they managed this with consummate ease, if you look a little deeper there is little substance below the surface. An attempt to migrate into more psychedelic, poppy waters seems like the right direction for the New Zealanders, but on the evidence provided in the Dragon Bar, they haven’t quite found them yet.
The Datsuns Setlist:
Yeah, Yeah, Just Another Mistake
Paranoid People (What’s in Your Head?)
Girls Best Friend
Hong Kong Fury
What Would I Know?
Stuck Here for Days
Emporer’s New Clothes
MF From Hell
Eye of the Needle
Who Are You Stomping Your Foot For?
Review – Ian Ravenscroft
Photos – Keith West