Monday, 6 February 2017

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties - The Dome, Tufnell Park, 02/02/17

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Katie Malco fought a losing battle throughout her set. From the first chord she was plagued with terrible feedback from the sound system, her hauntingly soft vocal overpowered by the ceaseless buzzing echoing through the basically empty venue.
The room filled up gradually, but that was another obstacle to overcome: the stage and the bar are in a shared space, so talking and laughing were inescapable. The scattered people around the room had been paying polite attention at the beginning of her set, but after the first couple of songs their attention wandered, and for a while it looked as though Katie had completely lost momentum.
But being no stranger to performing, she has some experience on how to read crowds. Obviously aware that her original material wasn't going down too well, she announced, "I hope you don't mind, I'm going to do a cover because I don't like the song that's on my setlist." Not many artists spontaneously change their set around, so the audience's interest was instantly piqued.
I wasn't familiar with the song that she covered - Ryan Adam's 'This House Is Not For Sale' - but her rendition of it was powerful. She seemed much more confident performing the cover than she did playing her own material, which could have been due to nerves thanks to the crowd's lack of response, but I was blown away by her vocal. The room went completely silent, the people who had been talking over her finally paying attention to the talented singer up on the stage. It finished far too quickly and closing song 'September' paled in comparison, making the cover a bright spot in an otherwise bland set.
I haven't been able to find the three songs that Katie played at the beginning of her set, which makes me wonder if it was new material. However, the songs that she has over on her Bandcamp are beautiful, and I'd recommend giving them a listen.

This House Is Not For Sale cover

Thom Weeks doesn't ordinarily show up on stage with an acoustic guitar: he's usually surrounded by the other members of hardcore punk outfit Gnarwolves. I've only seen the boys in action once - a very blurry night in Swindon back in June that I can hardly recall a moment of - but I know for sure that it was one of the sweatiest, most energetic gigs I've ever been to. The crowd didn't stand still for a moment, the normally complacent Swindonians thrumming with adrenaline, and I lost count of how many moshpits broke out and how many people crowdsurfed (as well as how many rum 'n' cokes I was pouring down my throat in excitement... Hence why I never reviewed that show. Whoops.).
Seeing him perform an acoustic set was a complete 180 to anything I'd heard from him before. He's never going to be my favourite vocalist - something in his tone just doesn't appeal to me, and I can't put my finger on why that is - but I can appreciate the effort that he puts into every moment onstage and the passion that he feels for performing.
This was obvious during 'Creeps' and 'Flames'. Both songs feature unhinged maniacal laughter, Thom cackling as though he were a man possessed. The audience was rapt during those moments more out of startling confusion than anything as Thom threw his head back, screeching into the microphone. 'Flames' was the oldest song he played, sharing that he "wrote this song when I was 22 years old, and I'm nearly 30 now...", so I wasn't surprised that that one was a little bit off the wall, but it's a trait shared by almost every song he played. All of his solo material is just a little bit... Weird.
Take, for example, 'Paperdoll Girl', whose chorus is just "Blood, blood, blood" repeated in a disturbing mantra. Then there's 'Benzo Blues', which Thom introduced by explaining that the song was about "when you're in bed and you're lying next to someone you're really, really fond of... And knowing you're not allowed to touch them"... Not the kind of topic Gnarwolves normally focus on.
The highlight of his set is a toss up between his cover of Green Day's 'Pulling Teeth' and a currently unreleased Gnarwolves track. Thom seemed to have the most fun during the cover, beaming as he adlibbed through the instrumental section, encouraging the crowd to get involved. He started the night by saying "Hello everyone, I'm called Thom! I'm really scared... Let's do songs", but towards the end of the set he was completely relaxed and loving every moment on the stage, thanking the crowd at multiple points for being "really lovely".
He featured two Gnarwolves songs in his set - 'Bottle To Bottle' and the aforementioned unreleased which I'm going to refer to a 'One By One' - and I was shocked that they worked acoustically. Gnarwolves are noisy, and I didn't think their songs would translate well, but they sounded wonderful. 'One By One' is catchy, the chorus of "Is this the real world or somewhere in between? I've spent my life chasing American dreams" certain to get a great crowd reaction when they release it, pointing towards more success for the band in the coming year.
Before closing song 'Sick', Thom shared "I've played this room with three different acts now, in three different slots," and it amazes me that a man with so much experience could still be humble and grateful to the crowd. Despite the fact that he's been releasing music for almost ten years, Thom doesn't take it for granted, and that's a refreshing attitude.

Bottle To Bottle
Paperdoll Girl
Rotten Mouth
Pulling Teeth cover
Benzo Blues
New Gnarwolves song (One By One)

It was a surprise when Rob Lynch took to the stage, because he wasn't supposed to be a support act. "I only came as a punter! I enjoyed my lime and soda and now here I am," he said, quipping "Dreams can come true, kids." He'd been speaking to Dan earlier in the night and he'd been invited to play a short set, and luckily for us he'd agreed.
You wouldn't have known that Rob was a surprise guest. As soon as he started playing 'Feeling Good' the crowd were chanting along, singing louder than he could at moments throughout his brief three song set. He seemed overjoyed by the response, apologetically saying, "I wore my comfy clothes, too. If I'd known I was playing I would have dressed up for you. I've got my Wrestlemania cap on..." getting a big laugh from the crowd.
It didn't matter that Rob wasn't prepared, because he played beautifully. Having supported Deaf Havana in Kingston the night before, he was in the right frame of mind for performing, and though he only had fifteen minutes on stage he made the most of every one of them. 'Whiskey' has always been a fan favourite, so it wasn't surprising that the singalong for that was riotous, and in only a couple of minutes Rob warmed the crowd up more than the previous two supports had managed to.
I was familiar with Rob, having seen him support All Time Low and Recreations. over the last couple of years, but not everyone in the room knew who he was. A girl called Mollie down at the barrier shouted up to ask him what his name was, and he replied "My name's Robert Lynch, what's yours?", causing the crowd to start up a chant of "Robbie, Robbie, Robbie fuckin' Lynch!". When that died down he announced that he had one song left, joking "I'm going to play a new song. To you, Mollie, they're all new songs...".
I've never been to a show where a support has been added during the course of the evening, and it definitely made things more exciting. I'd seen Rob wandering through the crowd throughout the course of the night, but I certainly hadn't expected him to get up on stage!
Thank you, Rob, for deciding to work on your night off. You made this night even more memorable for me.

Feeling Good
We Sang

This was the first Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties full band show in the UK. Up until this point Dan Campbell - sorry, Aaron West - has performed solo acoustic sets of the bands material, playing a 2014 Kingston show in conjunction with Banquet Records and the three Slam Dunk dates back in 2015.
I can't find the words to express how flawless this set was.
Playing debut album 'We Don't Have Each Other' and last year's three track EP 'Bittersweet', the band featured their entire back catalogue during this hour long set, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's the best show I've ever been to.
Every single song is strong: musically beautiful, lyrically brilliant, Dan Campbell's genius expressing itself through the story of a man called Aaron West.
It's the worst year of Aaron's life. His father dies and his marriage breaks down after his wife Diane suffers a miscarriage. He takes his dad's old car and drives away to get some space, returning to discover that Diane has sold their house and moved away.
Despite the heavy nature of the songs, they're loved by the fans. From the first note of ''67 Cherry Red' to the last chord of 'You Ain't No Saint', every person in the room sang their hearts out. The atmosphere was electrifying, goosebumps breaking out over my skin at multiple points throughout the evening. It's impossible to be neutral during an Aaron West show: it's an emotional rollercoaster, from the heart-wrenching 'Divorce and the American South' to the lightly optimistic 'Going To Georgia' (the bonus track originally by The Mountain Goats).
This is performance art at its best. From the moment Dan sets foot on the stage, he is Aaron. He talks about his fear of disappointing his mother with the news of his divorce, ruminates on religion, wondering about "what it takes to get into heaven, who says you can and who says you can't [...] what if someone who shouldn't be there got in" and sharing anecdotes of his mother taking him to see the pope when he was younger, when "he's in a goddamned armoured car, so you see him but I don't know... I guess it never really felt like you see him".
The passionate introduction to 'Divorce and the American South' ripped my heart out. It was one of the few songs that Dan performed alone, and when the band left the stage and he was left alone, the sheer emotion emanating from him was astounding. "This is a song about driving in circles," he began. "This is a song about how hard it is to find a payphone. This is a song about why you shouldn't break your cellphone, like a child, when you're upset. This is a song about when I found that payphone, and I clung to it like a drowning man clings to driftwood, and I called the only number that I had memorised again, and again, and again... And how I hoped that someone would pick up." Despite the fact that it was a full band performance there still weren't any trumpet players, so the crowd had to chant the riff back to him at the top of the voices in the most brilliant group singalong I've ever experienced.
There were multiple points throughout the night when Dan let the crowd do the singing, stepping back from the microphone with an amazed look on his face as the audience yelled back his lyrics.
After the first song of the night he took a brief pause and said "I am just a little nervous, and I appreciate your applause," and for a man who's been touring with The Wonder Years for over ten years I thought nervous would no longer be in his vocabulary. Aaron West isn't biographical, so when Dan unveiled the project he shared that he felt out of his comfort zone, and it blows my mind that he's not more confident with a crowd reaction this rapturous.
I think Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties just became my favourite band. I can only hope Dan won't leave it too long before he does a full band UK tour, because I already want to go back and relive this night. 

'67 Cherry Red
Our Apartment
Get Me Out Of Here Alive
St. Joe Keeps Us Safe
Divorce and the American South
The Thunderbird Inn
Goodbye, Carolina Blues
Runnin' Scared
Carolina Coast
Green Like The G Train, Green Like Sea Foam
Going To Georgia
You Ain't No Saint

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