It’s a beautiful spring evening as I stroll through Clifton towards the White Rabbit. A couple of beers in, feeling the last push of warmth from the sinking sun before the colder air gathers, listening to the birds trilling from the treetops, a good friend at my side, I exist in a state of complete contentment.
As we walk past the concrete geometry of the Student Union, I think back to the gigs I saw at the Anson Rooms as a teenager. There’s something about this weather, the rare timeless contentment I feel that makes me nostalgic. There was Rocket From The Crypt in 1997 – a thirteen year old me dripping with sweat and grinning from ear-to-ear as I was plucked off the top of the crowd by a burly bouncer and flung over the railings. “You come over again sunbeam and you’re out, you hear me? One more time and you’re done!” Fast-forward a year to 1998 and a fourteen year old me is jumping up and down in near ecstasy as Terrorvision spray me with water from their Super Soaker 2000s. Those gigs were wild and silly; life was wild and silly back then.
I mostly watch gigs now in a strange no man’s land, never quite sure how to truly be in the moment. It might have something to do with the types of gig I go to.
There’s the trendy gigs where the young people go to enjoy chemicals and the sounds of their own voices over all the best bits. I am annoyed by them, but perhaps it is because I resent them a little.
Then you have the nostalgia gigs as a band from a decade ago extricates themselves from the box of CDs in your loft, dusts themselves off, and heads to an 02 venue to play their crowning album in full. It is enjoyable, of course it is, but it is also contrived. It doesn’t take long for the shiny lustre of that heady first time to be sullied by the pot-bellied, bearded and greying men on stage. Here we all are fruitlessly trying to capture some of our former vitality having slipped neck deep into mediocrity.
And then there’s the occasional show from a living-legend jetted in to play a vast field or helicoptered into some behemoth arena. Barclaycard VIP areas abound and credit card-sponsored champagne buses and picnic hampers and c*nts as far as the eye can see. The music is brittle, blown back and forth on the breeze, like a dandelion clock that you try to grasp before it scatters completely. You’ll find me at the back by the sound tower singing along to every word, drinking a thirty pound merlot from a plastic bottle and shaking my skinny ass in my skinny jeans.
I also go to a lot of incredible gigs by amazing dedicated musicians that make remarkable music in their own quiet ways. I sit or stand, and thoroughly, deeply appreciate them. As good as it may be, these performances don’t compare to those early teenage gigs. I think what I’m trying to say is that I miss experiencing music in a way that it overpowers me, that the sonic on-rush displaces all of the things that take up space in me and shouldn’t. I miss music making me feel alive – I don’t mean in a cerebral way either – I mean like I am only existing in a single moment and there is nothing but the music.
Slonk and Cagework, best friends Joe and Sam along with their bands, in this small pub room, succeed in making me exist in the moment, to disconnect my brain and be. In both of their sets, the honesty, the urgency hits me, keeps on hitting me, until I am out on my feet and floating in it.
Sam Bedford’s bruised bedroom songs become muscular statements of intent, demanding your attention. Joe Sherrin’s plaintive and fragile lo-fi creations become screaming, roaring anthems. The chords are big, the choruses bigger, the drumming frantic, the solos rip-snorting, the melodies indelible. Layer upon layer it builds. Cagework’s Simmer threatens to blow out the windows whereas Slonk’s Pursuing a Career outside of Conveyancing and I’m Losing My Mind on the Outside of Everything near lifts the ceiling clean off.
Both acts have fledgling back catalogues, but already their songs mean something to the people that have listened. The crowd nods, jumps, contorts, erupts when the music demands that they do so. And for once, I am one of them. I am.
The gig was put on by the fantastic Breakfast Records.