If ever there was a gig to make you think of its wider context – of the issues that the very event brings up, of how one evening can form a microcosm of a section of a music scene – it would and should be Priests’ debut UK show.
Although Priests have far from shied away from politics in their creations, they have been vocally critical of such an easy label to dub them with. It is blatant that they can be deemed such, but then other bands that do not fit the same musical aesthetic, rarely have this aspect of their music so persistently highlighted. Perhaps it is then worthwhile noting the other politics at play at such a gig: the ways in which the bands interact with the audience, the divides within the audience, how the bands respond to each other and how crowd members respond to band members .
It’s easy enough to start recognising people at small DIY gigs in Cardiff and this is testament to the consistently excellent bands that DIY promoters book here; case in point, own noise and The Joy Collective’s line-up this evening of Towel and WaLL to support Washington four-piece, Priests. When a group of new faces turn up to a show, it’s all very exciting and somewhat intriguing but there is also something of the unknown – you can’t be sure how unified the crowd will be in its principles of action and reaction. Perhaps with larger gigs, this idea isn’t so obvious – of course people will conduct themselves differently – but the smaller gigs feel somewhat safer. You can go, knowing largely what to expect from the other people in the crowd around you. This isn’t relevant solely because of the genre of bands playing tonight, but that is a factor. Punk/post-punk and its sub-genres tend to be proud of its ethos and certainly hinges on specific principles.
What is overwhelmingly clear about Towel is how delighted they are to be doing this together. They’re having fun together, they’re a joy to behold and their collective humour shines through for the duration of their performance. Destruction is their aim and I was going to attempt to say something “witty” about distraction being their game (by which I mean they’ll grasp your attention from pretty much anything else) but their game is likely destruction too. And it’s great. Laughter filters through the cacophony of drums, fairground-esque keyboard and vocals in a number of their songs. They pair this with a chaotic conviction in what they’re doing: making and performing music that seems to act as an extension of their friendship, knitting together a force of targeted, wit-driven disdain. This same disdain can also translate into delight though, as we see when classic chant ‘Tinder Surprise’ becomes for one night only (or possibly multiple nights; who am I to know?) Corbyn Surprise, and the shouts of “left! Left! Left!” transform from swipes of rejection to celebratory cheers.
Towel are not the only ones to celebrate Corbyn’s appointment as new Labour leader. WaLL too begin their set dedicating a song to Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. WaLL are quite the promising act. They are not far from maturing from angst into exciting, unadulterated insight into social issues. As yet their sound comes across as something of a collage of influences – Fugazi, Hole, The Slits – but it’s certainly a strong basis on which to develop, and, paired with the courage of their convictions, they’ll soon be a force to be reckoned with. Their skill leaves little to be desired – easily they transition from melodic to discordant and their performance is always ready to complement their sound, whether it be brooding into the microphone or leaping across the space. The vocalist’s command of the audience is refreshing as, before they even began, the tall people are asked to move to allow others to better see. Setting a fundamental basis of respect and awareness of others is a fantastic move on their part – one that adheres to my understanding of contemporary punk ethos, and one which I can only wish will become more commonplace in time.
As something of an aside, certain behaviours during Priests’ set then struck me as out of place. It’s not that I hate fun but my facial expression likely betrayed me when a select few started crowd-surfing in a crowd too small to really support it and in which few others seemed comfortable with it. In the divide of back-patters vs. eye-rollers in the crowd, maybe the odd congratulatory back-pat made it worthwhile, but, if you allow me to be entirely figurative here, eye-rolls speak louder. Oh, and maybe I also just hate fun – who knows.
If I had not just declared my hatred of fun – they call me killjoy – I would herein wax lyrical on how enjoyable Priests are in every facet. Luckily for me, there is so much more to Priests. They perform with a passion that could almost be alarming, for you are soon to realise that this band have really outdone themselves on stage presence and energy, filling the space beyond its containment. That’s not to say that they refuse to hold back – they mark contrasts in melody and tumultuousness to faultless effect. ‘Doctor’ fantastically showcases the band’s signature lyrical wit, immediacy and the structural integrity of their instrumentation with all its vexed thrust.
Vocalist, Katie Greer – also of Chain and the Gang – makes point of endorsing the other bands on the line-up before the end of their set, paying particularly high praise to one of Towel’s final songs, deeming it one of the greatest things they’d heard of late. While thanking support groups is nothing out of the ordinary, this level of advocation is exemplary of the respect by which we hold one another up (and I don’t mean crowd-surfing) out of admiration.