Life Of Agony + Madball + Tarah Who? @ Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes – Saturday 11th February 2023


There’s nothing quite like the sound of a three-piece band in full flow: when all the instruments lock in tightly there’s something so very visceral about the sound produced. Parred back and stripped of any excess fat, it encapsulates the very essence of raunchy rock n’ roll, and that’s just what you get with Tarah Who? ‘Sell It To The World’ is their introduction to Milton Keynes and their dynamic magnetism soon pull all the stragglers in from the bar and then treats them to a punchy, hard-hitting set. As it is the final night of the tour there’s an end-of-term, party vibe to proceedings, but that makes the cryptically-titled ‘Pantomath’ no less powerful, and proves Tarah Who? worthy of anyone’s time.

While Tarah Who? have done a grand job warming up the crowd, nothing can really prepare us for the musical tornado that is New York’s hardest, Madball. Whether headlining, or further down the bill, I’ve never seen these guys turn in a bad performance. The years may pass but their energy never depletes and, like a spark to kindling, ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ is an explosive opener and it certainly sets the crowd alight. Despite being packed in tightly, room is made for a circle pit, as the braver souls dive off the stage…and it is only the first song! The title track from Hold It Down follows, and it does little to calm the situation and ‘Streets Of Hate’ adds fuel to the fire with boots in the air as crowd surfers pass overhead. Madball deliver the songs in threes, and each salvo takes the most direct line to what the f*ck it’s all about. They deliver a career-spanning set that takes in ‘Across Your Face’ (from 1988’s Droppin’ Many Suckers) ‘Rev Up’ (from latest album, For The Cause), but in whatever guise they appear they’re always on point and no more so than with parting blast ‘Hardcore Still Lives’. Hours don’t come more brutal than this.

Originating from the same streets as Madball, Life Of Agony evidence another rotten facet of the Big Apple, but this quintet draw their heaviness from a deep, emotional well. ‘Game changer’ is an overused phrase but in the case of Life Of Agony’s 1993 debut album River Runs Red, it is perfectly apt; it forever changed the trajectory of alternative music and pushed the boundaries of heavy music into uncharted realms. River Runs Red is now celebrating its 30th anniversary, so it gets a tour in its honour with the album played in full, from start to finish. It is a record that constantly pokes at fresh wounds, so I had my qualms about how that emotional intensity would transfer to the live environment, but my fears were soon allayed by ‘This Time’. It began River Runs Red in fine style, and has a similar effect in concert. With the band bathed in blood red light (obviously) ‘This Time’ has every voice singing along, and every fist punching the air. Those familiar with River Runs Red’s concept will know the dark tale it tells, yet judging by the reactions of those around me, it has a cathartic quality and you can almost feel the negative feelings dissipate as the album progresses through ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘Respect’ up to closer ‘Stain Remains’ and outro ‘Friday’. Handled with the respect it deserves, River Runs Red still sounds fresh and will continue flowing into eternity.

There’s only one way Life Of Agony could follow such a performance, and that’s with a collection of six of their best beginning with ‘Scars’, a track from River Runs Red’s companion album, 2019’s The Sound Of Scars. ‘Lost At 22’ makes a welcome appearance (how could it not?) while a heavyweight ‘Weeds’ brings down the curtain in style, ensuring this night won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Life Of Agony Set List:

  1. This Time
  2. Underground
  3. Monday
  4. River Runs Red
  5. Through And Through
  6. Words And Music
  7. Thursday
  8. Bad Seed
  9. My Eyes
  10. Respect
  11. Method Of Groove
  12. The Stain Remains
  13. Scars
  14. Let’s Pretend
  15. Other Side Of The River
  16. Lost At 22
  17. I Regret
  18. Weeds

Madball Set List:

  1. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
  2. Hold It Down
  3. Streets Of Hate
  4. Set It Off
  5. Smell The Bacon (What’s With You?)
  6. Rev Up
  7. Across Your Face
  8. Face To Face
  9. Lockdown
  10. Infiltrate The System
  11. Get Out
  12. Look My Way
  13. Spit On Your grave
  14. Colossal Man
  15. Doc Marten Stomp
  16. Heavenhell
  17. For My Enemies
  18. Pride (Times Are Changing)
  19. Hardcore Still Lives

Tarah Who? Set List:

  1. Sell It To The World
  2. Rainy Day
  3. Freshmeat Rockstars
  4. Toast To The Brave
  5. The Showdown
  6. Pantomath
  7. Ache