Review by Ian Savage, photos by Russ Tierney
This co-headline alternating-top-spot lineup is on only its second outing by the time it rolls into Birmingham on an unseasonably warm March Thursday, the more seasoned band having closed the Glasgow show the evening before now sandwiched between the two younger outfits.
Bizarrely-named French quintet Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! are tasked with getting the slowly-swelling Academy crowd up to the crowd barriers, and succeed at least in part, opening with a couple of ballsy power-pop numbers in the form of ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ and ‘Taking Chances’. Frontman Bertrand Poncet’s inter-song banter suffers the unfortunate combination of seemingly being lifted wholesale from Motley Crue live DVDs and being delivered in a vaguely amusing French/West Coast US hybrid accent, (“Birmingham, make some fuh-keeng noyse!” is trotted out not once but three times in quick succession). The band’s music suffers similarly from being simultaneously familiar yet patched together.
Perhaps tonight’s setlist was chosen to showcase the versatility of the band in a short half hour; what it actually does for the uninitiated listener is suggest an outfit who haven’t really decided on their musical direction yet, with punk, power-pop, ‘screamo’, straight ahead rock and metal all uncomfortably rubbing shoulders in the space of single songs. Whilst doubtless musically accomplished (some of the locked in double kick drum riffage is flawless, despite on one occasion even being crowbarred into a cover of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’) the latter two thirds of the set is a comedown from a promising start, the myriad of styles on display never quite gelling into a coherent whole. Perhaps with a little more honing the flour, eggs and sugar will coalesce to a worthwhile C!N,CC! cake – for the time being, slightly disappointing.
One band who have never disappointed this reviewer live is Less Than Jake, and the Academy is pretty much rammed by the time the Gainsborough boys take to the stage. Their total lack of onstage individual egos makes for an endearing, inclusive show and from the get go the band are making full use of the generous stage space, firing out a mixture of old-school and newer tunes (‘Look What Happened’, ‘Good Enough’, ‘How’s My Driving?’) as trombonist Buddy Schaub in particular sets about covering some serious distance.
A usual highlight of a LTJ show is their wonderfully self deprecating humour, and this is on fine display tonight (“We were recently voted Rolling Stone’s number 67 best-looking band over 35! No plastic surgery, can you believe it?”) as an “American-fat” gentleman is sought out from the crowd to dance with “the hottest girls in the room” during ‘Sugar In Your Gas Tank’ and the ongoing banter between vocalists Chris DeMakes and Roger Maganelli escalates through ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ to ‘The Science Of Selling Yourself Short’ (“Just so you know, Chris, I think we’re being fucking hilarious.”).
The bonus of their songs rarely breaking the four-minute mark is that so many staples can be crammed into a full-fat headline set, and still leave time for diverting novelties like tonight’s recurring ‘Pac-Man Cereal Theme’ (no, me neither) AND a decent encore – on this occasion the one-two punch of ‘History Of A Boring Town’ into the prerequisite ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ before they play us out with ‘that’ cereal theme again. For a pure ska-punk party Less Than Jake simply can’t be beaten on their night; this night was definitely one of those.
Yellowcard fortunately aren’t a band who trade on humour or novelties, though, and immediately take the evening in a more polished and crafted direction. The front of house sound is still coming together through the first few tunes (Convocation, Transmission Home, Crash The Gates) leaving their ‘USP’ Sean Mackin on violin largely inaudible, but the Jacksonville outfit still fill a massive amount of sonic space, a side-stage additional guitarist spotted padding things out on ‘Only One’ and ‘Lift A Sail’.
The latter mid-set is perfectly placed to kick Yellowcard up into high gear, the sound by now pretty much flawless and allowing the soaring, expansive arrangement to punch its full weight. There’s straight out rock in the form of ‘Rough Landing’, ‘Holly’, with dual guitar ego-riser soloing and even a full on arena rock ‘bring the song down, and house lights up’ moment, before the feel is bought down again by frontman Ryan Key settling behind a keyboard for ‘California’, getting lighters waving and possibly eyes moist across the Academy.
By the time the band bring out ‘Way Away’ pint glasses are flying across the room and the curfew is rapidly approaching, and there’s only really one place that Yellowcard can take it from here, and breakthrough smash ‘Ocean Avenue’ closes the night to a massive response. The band and audience leaving equally plastered in grins and sweat; a superb if not obvious headline pairing which provides a superb evening’s listening. Well worth catching while you can.
Read our interview with Less Than Jake’s Chris DeMakes here