Saturday, 1 February 2014

Max Tractor - Live Review of Max Raptor's Barfly spudfight

Max Raptor *****
Fort Hope *****
Only Rivals ***1/2**

Camden Barfly, Tuesday 28th January 2014

I bloody love potatoes. The king of vegetables. Flexible. Versatile. Potatoey.
From rich, la-de-dah, creamy, garlicky dauphinoise to the humble fat-soused chip. Delicious. 

Well, tonight, thanks to an ill-thought through acceptance of a pissed-up challenge from a fellow potato worshipper (you know who you are!), I have taken up the starchy, gluten-imbued gauntlet and agreed to use the humble spud as the guiding motif or metaphor, if you will, for this evening's proceedings.

Alright, I have to take some of the blame: over a glass of something refreshing earlier tonight, I did, turdishly, compare rock music to potatoes. Bed. Make. Own. Lie.

Only Rivals ***1/2**

First are Dubliners Only Rivals (well second actually, unfortunately, due to the earlier great potato debate overrunning and getting quite heated, I managed to miss the marvellous Making Monsters).

Ok, beginning to feel a bit set up and mildly casually racist now, given the Irish thing. But bollocks to it, potatoes are not sovereign property of the Emerald Isle, so get over it you politically correct, over-sensitive, finger-pointing, pious fucknuts. 

Potatoes. Fucking potatoes. Irish or not. So, what we got? Well, this energetic four piece form the mash or fat chips on tonight's bill of fare. Filling, tasty, bold and substantial. Nothing too fancy to be honest, but hot and satisfying nonetheless. 

There's enough substance and bulk to lift them away from microwave ready meal gruelly mash that seems to be flooding the market and enough rough spud skin on the chunky chips to give a grungy bite, again, unseen in most mass produced bland fries. But they could probably do with a splash of something a bit more spicy or provocative to make them truly different. That, or leave all the dirty skin on and get a bit filthier or earthier.

But, you can't really go that wrong with chips. Or mash. Good stuff, if not a soupçon underdone and  maybe just a tad unadventurous.

Fort Hope *****
Mash and fat chips sitting warmingly in the belly, it's time to move up a notch or two in the wonderful world of the spud. Reconstituting themselves out of the bag of broken but spicy and always interesting Flaming Tasty Monster Munch that was My Passion, next up are home counties quartet Fort Hope.

And the lurch towards finer dining is obvious from the very first chord. There's a sophistication and class here; lightly buttered, perfectly seasoned organic Jersey Royals with hand picked garlic leaves and sophisticated vintage truffle oil. But then there's also a fiery and acidic edge that gives them enough of a current and challenging street food edge to keep things away from the over slick.

Perhaps the most striking and obvious thing about this lot though, apart from the consumate and cheesewire tight musicianship, is front man Jon Gaskin's incredible vocals.

Every note, run, trill, riff and searing high note is nailed perfectly. But it never sounds anodyne or too sickly smooth. This is a truly world class voice: file in the same very small and exclusive index as the incredible Dan Lancaster. And like Lancaster, Gaskin is no preening, self-aware egomaniac; he goes about his business with an almost indecent dollop of humility and with an apparent gauche but beguiling and charming lack of self confidence.

The fine dining continues through a perfectly balanced and energetic menu swinging between more brutal and earthy moments and almost RnB sassiness. The playing throughout is flawless, Gaskin's voice powerful, clean, sensational. 

For such a new band, their material is surprisingly mature. Maybe lacking the odd hook here and there, but wholesome and tasty all the same. There are moments of pure alt rock chicanery backed with serious heavier and maybe even proggy stretches (although not over imbued with time signature noodling) but the overall effect is rich, beautifully prepared, grown up, multi-layered contemporary rock. Bloody delicious.

Max Raptor *****
Ok, we've established that humble spuds - god's earth-covered testicles - are ridiculously versatile. From smokey porky pig flavoured pub snacks and greasy accompaniments to lips and arsehole-infested saveloys to finely prepared allumetes and organic layered poshery. All yummy and salivary amylase-arousing gorgeousness in their own right and own place.

But try throwing all of the myriad variations and convolutions into a wheely bin, chucking in a gallon of loony soup extra strong lager, over proof bourbon, face-melting scotch bonnet chillies, the brain electrolytes of AJP Taylor, the drool of a university librarian, the jizz of Jamie Lenman, the bile of Ukranian freedom fighter, diesel, industrial drain cleaner,  and Vimto: give it a shake or a stir with a rusty machete and ta da. 

Impossible to pigeon hole, Burton-on-Trent's Max Raptor taste somewhere between The Butthole Surfers, Biffy Clyro, Mastodon, The Kaiser Chiefs, Black Flag, The Krankees and The Stranglers. Obviously they don't actually sound or taste like any of the above, but stick all of those in the wheelie bin with all the above ingredients, throw in a couple of goofballs, a sweaty, ravenous and baying crowd and you get the picture.

As soon as the East Midlanders take to the stage there's an extra jump lead bulldog clipped to the collective gonads of the crowd. The energy level, heat and rabid fervour go up several notches and we're away.

Rolling between mean, punky rawness and thunderous down tuned chuggy riffs, every song is a catchier than cholera banger. Airing wares like the massive Breakers, Back of a Barrel Wave and the über-anthemic England Breathes from last year's stunning long player Mother's Milk, alongside older but equally as brilliant chest-beaters like The Patron Saint of Nothing and the ever-raucous The King is Dead, we're treated to  a groaning table jammed with sing-a-longs, wooaah ooh ohhs, aggressive fist-waving, proto-political sneering and clever acidity. And this satisfies, cajoles and fuels the joyous and adoring crowd - a pan of bobbing, bubbling potatoes in this Camden pressure cooker.

This main course has it all. The chef has left nothing out. Hell, along with the fiery chilies and spice he's chopped his finger tips and a bit of his bellend into the pan for good measure to make every mouthful as dangerous, thought-provoking and unsettling as it is tasty. 

On tonight's showing, we're going to taste loads more of this spicy, fucked-up but nourishing and warmingly satisfying melange in the foreseeable future. Already stalwarts of the festival scene, expect more spicy potato-based nourishment in a wheelie bin near you.


Here's a tiny taster of the spuddy energy on show tonight. Chef's bellend not included. Enjoy: 

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