Sunday, 6 October 2013

Friends like these. Live review of Funeral For A Friend with Gnarwolves and Polar at The Electric Ballroom

Funeral For A Friend ****1/2*
Gnarwolves *****
Polar *****
Moose Blood **1/2***

Electric Ballroom, Camden, Thursday 3rd October 2013

Once in a while, there's a line up that makes a gig totally unmissable. On the face of it, an unholy cooked up collection of differing and disparate highs, lows, trips and mind blowing oddness: punk, savagery, sophistication, old school, new (pre)school, hardcore, pop punk and post hardcore emo/screamo. Well, tonight ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's one of those. A fucked up, mixed up, mashed up knees up.

And first up? 

Moose Blood **1/2***
To kick things off from tonight's Mad Hatter's pharmacy a dose of medium strength pop punk. Mildly mind altering but ultimately a lowish potency and pretty much over-the-counter in terms of danger or side effects.

There's not vast amounts of energy or excitement here. But at this stage of their career, they're probably far more comfortable in smaller, edgier venues than a 1,000 capacity vast hall. More milk of magnesia than meth.

That said, the Canterbury-based quartet put on a decent and honest enough show and get a few heads spinning and Vans tapping.

Side effects: May cause tapping of feet while nursing a lager in a snap back. In rare cases may cause a light mosh or fist pump. Mildly intoxicating. Probably best taken in confined spaces. Will get stronger over time. 

Polar *****
A completely different strength and type of substance next. Guildford's very own mainlined hardcore noisy bastards Polar.

A brilliant and savage assault on the senses. This is highly toxic, head-fucking gear. While they've been honing their output and polishing the heady ingredients for their already much vaunted and highly anticipated new release set for next year, they've been cooking up some serious shit in their mind lab. 

The addition of huge sub drops has added a vast new depth and bowel-loosening strength to their already mind-blowing and brutal cocktail. And they've even thrown in, dare I say it, a milligram or two of melody among the mayhem.

Frontman Adam Woodford is in dynamic and amphetamine-like fizzing dervish form. Cajoling the gathering crowd to get involved: and the slick, powerful and super-strength set is inhaled, snorted and stuck up the bum willingly by the hooked and crazed pit.

On tonight's showing, this lot are maturing into a bigger-boned, butcher and broader band by the minute. Having toured with the likes of the excellent Heights and Bleed From Within, you can feel the heavier influence permeating their output. There are even moments of While She Sleeps in the newer, more complete sound and if the new album lives up to the hype, then this fucked-up, honking, roaring juggernaut will only pick up more and more irresistible speed. 

Side effects: Likely to cause convulsions, fits, serious and uncontrolled flailing of arms, legs and genitals. Many users will report involuntary raising of the middle finger, dizziness, tightening of the anus and an urge to lose one's shit and drink a truck load of Jagermeister. Sub drops may also cause involuntary soiling of undergarments. Powerful stuff.

Gnarwolves *****
In the next vial, we move onto a much more curious and intriguing nostrum. A raggedy baggedy, highly intoxicating, head-buggering, sensorially exploding mind fuck. True, honest stripped back, euphoric and joyous punk. 

There's a real earthiness to Gnarwolves. This is no hydroponically grown lab-tested and refined gear. This is straight from the plant. Dirty, strong, heady and bloody deliciously powerful. And guaranteed to make you smile like a loon.

The raggedyness and roughness increases the allure: the perfect antidote to banal, samey, over-polished and over-produced, over-the-counter blandness. 

And it's not just wider classification that this heady mix puts to shame; within the tight and often self-protecting and self-congratulatory genre of pop punk, this hit is the one. It's a different strain to most of the predictable pop punk: rawer, gnarlier, grimier, filthier, er, funner.

Tonight's performance is as good as I've ever seen this lot. Especially given that they're on a big stage in a big room, when their smoke is usually considered best inhaled in a tight, dingy, packed, sweaty bong-sized room. 

But, by now, there's a really decent crowd on the floor and the smiled-doused mayhem and fervent sing-backs that break out are testament to the highly addictive and mind-elevating strength of this loveable but mildly disarming bag of earthy goodness. Wow.

Side effects: Care should be taken when administering this highly powerful and mind-altering mixture: delirium, uncontrollable face-damaging smiling, raucous yelling, spasms, losing bodily control, diving, whirling, losing self control and self respect while dancing like a cunt are all very common side effects. You have been warned!

Funeral For A Friend ****1/2*
So, on to the final dose of wonder on this most intoxicating and perception-widening of sessions.

Over a decade ago, we inquisitively opened a bottle marked with potentially confusing and conflicting ingredients: screamo/emo, post hardcore, metal, punk and a maybe even a few more mysterious constituents. And many were instantly hooked - whatever was in the mixture hit a spot. And hit it hard.

However, it was considered by many as unclassifiable. To some even unpalatable. Too confusing. Too different. Too adventurous. But by now, most sane-minded folk realise just how ahead of their time they were. A point proven by tonight's opening dose of 10:45, Amsterdam Conversations. Their first song ever written together. And it tastes and feels as fresh and relevant today as it did back then. In fact, even fresher. 

It soon becomes clear that tonight's seemingly mis-matched bill is no accident from the apothecary. All the bands here tonight have their hearts and DNA in broadly the same place. 

As FFAF hammer through a bewitching and beguiling 19 song long set, all the emotional responses are triggered. All the influences touted and outed. The rawness is still there. But it's juxtaposed with brilliant and tight musicianship. 

There are heavy bombs, political rapiers, punky, don't-give-a-fuck-finger-in-the-air anthems and it is truly elevating and mind-expanding. From The Art Of American Football, through Best Friends And Hospital Beds to the set closer Escape Artists Never Die: old ones, new ones, really old ones and ones from in between. All greedily hoovered up by the assembled addicts.

Despite inevitable line-up changes over such a long period in the business, the integrity, freshness and originality still shine through and oozes out of every sweating pore. With the irrepressible (stitch notwithstanding) Matthew Davies-Kreye fizzing like space dust and whipping up the packed house of adoring acolytes into a loved-up frenzy.

The crowd's diversity displays exactly just what a cross-over act FFAF truly are. Hipsters, punks, metallers, goths, pop punks, indie kids, dads, granddads and granddaughters but all united like some serotonin-bathed love puddle in total adoration for this most influential and enduring of remarkable class A acts. And long may the addiction continue.

Side effects: In all cases, racing heart, euphoria, feeling of well-being. Spontaneous singing and clapping. Moments of melancholia but accompanied by lucidity and  seeing of visions. Continued long-term use strongly recommended. 

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