Slaves seem to need their jabs before they visit Liverpool. During their last two tours of the UK, the cheeky punk duo have had to postpone their shows in the city – last time it was due to illness, and this time it’s because drummer and lead vocalist Isaac Holman’s crowdsurfing tomfoolery led to him dislocating his shoulder shortly before their November gig was set to take place.
Given that Slaves seem to be getting bigger by the month, this is perhaps a blessing in disguise for their fans though. In the time between their cancelled October 2014 gig at The Shipping Forecast and its rescheduling in February 2015, Slaves had begun to receive Radio 1 airplay, upstaged U2 and Interpol with a blinding appearance on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ and made the list for the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2015’, all of which meant that a gig that would probably have been played out to a smattering of hardcore Wednesday evening gig-goers ended up attracting a packed out venue on a fantastic Friday night.
Almost a year on, and Slaves continue to collect fans and attention in bucketloads. They’ve since hit the top 10 of the album charts with debut Are You Satisfied?, appeared at numerous summer festivals, were nominated for last years Mercury Prize, and Laurie Vincent even scored Total Guitar’s ‘Best New Guitarist’ award for 2015. Tonight is another sellout in Liverpool’s O2 Academy which, despite being one of those sponsored all-purpose venues with no decent beer, isn’t a bad place to see a band with it’s lowered ceiling and pleasantly run-down appearance.
I’m never sure how much input bands get on the music the venue airs in between performances, but I’m pretty sure Slaves got their mitts on the playlist here. As the crowd waited for them to grace the stage, they were treated to INXS, Fine Young Cannibals and Roots Manuva, before their actual entrance was heralded by The Vengaboys. It works, surprisingly; this fondness the boys have for naff tunes that are incongruous with their genre at least puts a smile on everyone’s face.
With the chart pop silliness over, it was time for the punk rock nincompoopery to begin. Slaves kick things off with ‘Ninety Nine’ followed by ‘Live Like an Animal’, before Holman, as he often does, signals the start of frenetic single ‘Sockets’ by speaking out the words to the chorus.
Slaves are often compared to Sleaford Mods (to the annoyance of the Mods, who had a proper pop at them last June) but while both are angry and quintessentially British duos, things never get too political with Slaves. While many of their songs bristle with venom, they’re a friendly and comedic undertone to them from a band who seem well aware that they’re more pantomime villains than criminal masterminds.
If there is a theme or message to their songs, it’s one of not allowing yourself to be become a ‘slave’ yourself through dedicating your life to work. Songs like ‘Cheer Up London’ and ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’ seem to resonate with a mixed-aged audience out late on a schoolnight, as does the excellent ‘In Dog Years You’re Dead’, which really gets the crowd going given it’s an obscure B-side that few have probably heard.
The banter, as ever, is razor sharp from the Kent boys. Whether they’re giving shouts out to their Scouse sound technician (‘sound guy’ is both a job and a compliment round these parts), talking about how hot and sweaty they are, or deservedly scolding some fool in the crowd for not knowing the difference between moshing and pushing people over, Slaves are able to give an intimate and personal touch to each gig, which makes you feel like they’re not simply giving an identikit performance in every town their visit.
Slaves lose 5% from their rating for not playing ‘Feed the Mantaray’. When they played it at The Shipping Forecast last February, Holman joked “Why do you like that song? It’s stupid!”, but much truth is said in jest and perhaps the boys aren’t as keen on that song as their fans are – it’s their ‘Fight for your Right to Party’, if you will. It was also a bit of a limp ending by their standards. Holman’s recent injury means it’s fair enough that he didn’t end with a stage dive, but fans are used to ‘Hey’ being something of a raucous and communal set closer. Tonight, it was an abrupt final song that left the crowd half expecting an encore even though the band had exhausted their material.
But these are churlish quibbles and it’s only because Slaves are such a great live band that they become relevant at all. Even if they’re not your cup of tea (and not everyone gets it), go and see them live before you write them off.
We are satisfied, Slaves.
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