It’s a wet Sunday evening in Kentish Town. I’ve got a cold, I’m soaked and I’m late for the first band. Whose bright idea was it to start a gig at 5pm anyway? Not the most auspicious of starts but handing my sodden coat into the cloakroom and grabbing a Guinness improve matters considerably.
Hawk Eyes blow away the remainder of my fug. Spikier and noisier in the flesh than on record, their energy is infectious. There’s a sizeable crowd down the front considering it’s just gone 6 o’clock but more importantly everyone is locked into what is happening on stage – eyes front, no chatting, no messing, just enjoying a no-nonsense rock band doing their stuff. New single, ‘Die Trying’, bodes well for the next album.
Jamie Lenman and his band follow, all looking very dapper as they surge through a set of his heavier material. It goes down well with many but frankly leaves me as cold as I was when I came in – like Ginger Wildheart without the songs. Not for me but more on Jamie later…
A changing of the guard ensues as Lenman’s fans head for the bars and the progheads (myself included) move to the front to secure a spot for Amplifier. ‘Magic Carpet’, the lead-off track from this year’s “Mystoria,” sounds huge. The latest album has divided opinion with its more stripped-down rock approach but riffs such as this and the raga rock of ‘OMG’ impress. The closing triptych is a delight: the obligatory ‘Motorhead’ is followed by a rare outing for the classic ‘O Fortuna’ then they sign off with ‘The Wave’. Perfect.
It’s all change again as the prog contingent dissipates to make room for the Kerbdog die-hards. The Kilkenny underground heroes open the biggest gig of their enigmatic career with an extended intro to ‘Pledge’, a fanfare for what is a special event for band and fans alike, Cormac Battle taking in the view from the stage as he thrashes out the riffs. It’s not a sell-out crowd but that is more than made up for by the love that is tangibly coming his way. “We couldn’t get arrested when we were supposed to be playing these places”, he muses with typical charm and pathos.
The twenty-year gap between those two hugely respected albums and this tour is clearly a factor in the reception which greets every single song tonight although it’s the ‘hits’ that provoke those why-weren’t-these-guys-fucking-huge? moments. Jamie Lenman and his sax player return for one such song, the hook-laden ‘Mexican Wave’. It’s a great version. All is forgiven, Jamie.
Songs like ‘End of Green’, ‘Dry Riser’ and particularly the Helmet soundalike, ‘Severed’ show just how heavy these supposed indie-rockers were (and are) and give a clue as to why Kerbdog never realised their potential – too heavy for the MTV crowd and too grunge for the metal heads. They fell between two stools but picked up a rabid and fiercely loyal cult following along the way.
“Here’s one for the grannies”, Cormac says, half-in-jest, introducing their biggest song, ‘Sally’. “And there might be some here at this stage in our fucking lives”, he concludes. Handing over guitar duties to his tech for ‘Dummy Crusher’ because “it’s too fast for me to play”, the frontman is content to stick to vocals for the encores. The new song, ‘Electricity’, is as good as anything from the ‘glory days’ and ‘JJ’s Song’ finishes what is an emotional evening of what-if’s.
It’s great to have Kerbdog back and on such form. Here’s hoping their fortunes are on the turn and they receive some of the success now that eluded them when it most counted. I have money on that happening and, being Irish myself, I always back the underdog.
Photos taken by Sabrina Ramdoyal.