Listener, Crazy Arm, Bangers et al @ White Rabbit, Plymouth – 4th August 2012
Irony. Alanis Morissette never quite grasped it as a concept but life is steeped in it. Like a late bus delaying you from arriving in time for the start of an all day gig in a Bus Station for instance. That’s what happened on my way to the latest offering at the White Rabbit in Plymouth’s Bretonside Bus Station and because of that I only heard the closing strains of Bear Fight as I approached the venue. I can only apologise to the band for this but the murmurings among the rest of the crowd were that the Plymouth band was on fine form. So it was left up to Drexl to kick things off as far as I was concerned and what an intense start for 5.45pm on a Saturday!?! With humour, anger and a huge sense of injustice, frontman Chris Muirhead takes to the floor stage and eyeballs the entire crowd en masse. Muirhead’s brand of spoken word and lung busting screams draw the audience in only for them to be blasted away by the choppy, tight riffs and driving rhythm section. One hell of a wake up call from a band named after a minor alien beast from Star Wars!
Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls
Next up were Plymouthian trio As We Sink providing us with a blast of speed-punk and some of the most impressive bass work I’ve seen for a long time. Bassist Chris Ratcliffe plays his bass like he is trying to bring a recently deceased child back to life and has the look of a boy who has recently been told that he will be flying against the Luftwaffe that very evening despite only having been in the air twice. That’s all entertaining enough but throw in some rapid chops and furious drumming and you have what amounts to a serious level of noise and band that I want to hear more from. A short walk in to the main room of the White Rabbit brings me face to face with Exeter pop-punkers Muncie Girls and tone of the event changes immediately. Singer and Bassist Lande Hekt (one of only two women on the entire bill) beguiles the audience with saccharine sweet vocals sung over the top of simple but catchy melodies. Lazy journalists would mention likenesses with Veruca Salt and Hole but there is something very English and ever so slightly well-spoken about Muncie Girls that gives them a more unique and appealing sound. Hekt could do with some more roar behind her vocals but when you’re playing early on the bill and your microphone cuts out during one of the first songs you could be forgiven for not playing with all guns blazing. There’s a future for Muncie Girls though and I think part of that future involves a large part of America falling in love with them. Mark my words.
Coxy Music
When you commit yourself to a day full of watching bands that are mostly new to you, there are three things you need. A strong pair of legs, an open mind and the hope that you’ll discover a great new band – you must always have hope. Fights And Fires reward that hope in spades as they explode on to the stage like a whirling, snarling, spitting beast with a glint in its eye. Frontman Philip Cox looks like Kevin Smith’s younger brother wearing a Rowdy Roddy Piper T-Shirt but has the moves of a heavy metal version of Freddie Mercury and the wild abandon of Andrew WK. Guitarist Ryan Price is a Norse Viking with crazy, crazy eyes and a solid line in speed riffing along with the ability to move through the audience and play amongst them and, in one case, over them (it’s a complicated and vaguely sexual story for another time). Bassist Dan Solomon has the moustache and the mischief of a Victorian villain but the bass playing of a funky madman. And finally there’s drummer Lee Jackson wearing nothing but a Pepsi T-shirt and a constant, bewildered smile that suggests he can’t believe his luck at being in such an amazing band but he should as he’s got the rhythm of a metronome and some immense beats to boot. Even if Fights And Fires’ brand of punk-rock-screamo isn’t your cup of tea, I urge you to go see them if they swing by your town just for the stage show – you won’t regret it.
Like a kid in a sweet shop, I was finding it hard to control myself with great new bands everywhere I looked but then I stumbled across the musical equivalent of a bag of moldy cough candy twists when re-entering the main room to watch Solutions. On first impressions, this quartet sounded like a poor man’s 3 Colours Red but on further listening they just got worse. Playing on a bill full of impassioned, doing-it-coz-they-have-to, talented bands, Solutions stuck out a mile as run-of-the-mill, lazy and inexplicably arrogant considering the distinctly average rock they were peddling. The only entertaining point of the set was the red trousered bassist trying and failing to have some banter with the crowd but not, as he thought, because of his mild Welsh accent but rather because he was neither funny, interesting or captivating and those in the room were just bored and trying to work out where this all fitted in with an otherwise astounding line up. So, one last saunter through to the floor stage to catch Southampton’s Our Time Down Here who, by the time I reached them, were already bouncing between floor and ceiling and hitting hard with their brand of punk that made me want to go home and dig out all my old Atari’s and Engine 88 CDs that are gathering dust under my bed. They also boasted one of the most entertaining drummers I have ever seen, Shane Bonthuys, who head banged his way through the entire set without missing a beat and kept the OTDH juggernaut pounding relentlessly forwards. Singer Will Gould is probably the most mobile man of the day, bouncing off walls and switching between friendly, appreciative banter (take note, Solutions) and throat tearing vocals with the ease of someone changing lanes on the autobahn.
My weary legs drag me back to the main room where the last three bands are all due to grace the stage and first up is Cornish trio Bangers who look like they are going to play some Weezer covers and be fun but generally out of kilter with the rest of the night. Well, dear reader, this is the moment that the phrase ‘never judge a  book by its cover’ was coined for. Singer and Guitarist Roo Pescod (What a name?!) looks like he spends his days working as a really friendly travel agent and wouldn’t hurt a fly but when he opens his mouth to sing a staggeringly raspy voice comes out that belies his slight frame and constantly smiling demeanor. There’s a real joy about the music Bangers play but at times they look almost embarrassed, as though they were only writing this music for a laugh and now everybody has taken it seriously. As with most of the bands today these guys demonstrate excellent musicianship, water-tight timing and a real determination to put every drop of energy in to their performance. These guys are the real deal, doing what they love with passion and absorbing every ounce of the experience as they go. Impressive stuff indeed.
Penultimately (new word?) we have local gods Crazy Arm with a full 6-piece line up and dashing line in black shirts. Now, admittedly, I already know and love Crazy Arm but I’ve never seen them play a hometown show so I was particularly interested to see how their performance differed from the London shows I’d previously seen them at and I was not disappointed. Playing in front of friends and fans who knew all the words, these folk-punkers were freed from the shackles of trying to impress and seemed to thoroughly enjoy their set from start to finish. Jon Dailey’s acrobatic guitar work was a thing of beauty and Darren Johns fronts the band like a young Bruce Springsteen, all gravelly tones and wide legged rock stances whilst never losing eye contact with the front row. What sets Crazy Arm apart from the crowd are the songs though, and renditions of ‘Song Of Choice’, ‘Of The Tarantulas’ and a rare outing for ‘Kith and Kingdom’ have the crowd singing back every word with fierce pride and belief in the carefully crafted lyrics. The occasional additions of Patrick James Pearson on keys and violin as well as the demure Vicky Butterfield on backing vocals (see, I told you there was another woman) add a touch of class to proceedings that bring to mind Arcade Fire’s younger, angrier siblings and suggest that there is yet more room for the band to grow and more ground for them to cover.
Are you Listener-ing?
And so it all comes down to this. All day bands and fans alike have had the name of Listener teetering tentatively on their lips and with the most unassuming of entrances the Arkansas trio take to the stage to set up their gear. Then, with a brief huddle that wouldn’t look out of place at the Olympics right now, they’re off on a journey that everybody is invited on. The flamboyantly mustachioed Dan Smith and Tom Harrington-alike Christian Nelson are the faces of Listener and look like they would be totally at home about 30 feet to the left, sat in the bus station at midnight with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s and some great stories to tell. Luckily for the patrons of the White Rabbit, however, they rounded up a drummer and came to play their Cake meets Pixies meets Ben Folds Five brand of Garage Rock with Smith’s twitchy, tourettes-laden, eyeball popping, spoken word layered over the top like space rocks sprinkled on a meat and potato pie. Labeling themselves as ‘Talk Music’ is a great way of setting themselves apart from the crowd but I think it does Listener a disservice because there are songs here and good songs at that. Having Listener come to town to top such an impressive bill was a real coup for Plymouth and one that a lot of people got to enjoy thanks to the hard working folk behind the scenes on the Plymouth music scene. There should have been more people though and this is something that we all need to be wary of. Your local town has a music scene and the chances are it is precariously balanced between life and death so get out there and support it. Based on today’s evidence, there is plenty of talent out there and with your support that talent could go on to achieve greatness so don’t just wait for the touring bands to grace you with their presence. Get out there and support those bands that spend their days working in banks, supermarkets, pubs and cinemas but spend their nights baring their souls, chests and tattoos to anyone who cares enough to listen. After all, you would be the first one to complain if your local venue had to close down and be replaced by a Wetherspoon’s, wouldn’t you? Oh the irony.