Just occasionally, amid the swathes of baby photos, sympathy seekers and misguidedly shared Britain First memes, Facebook does actually pull its weight. Such a staggering instance occurred last Tuesday, when Zuckerberg’s social media menace told me that I had two days to catch the band of the ‘10s so far (in my humble opinion) playing in the greatest city on the planet (or at least the one I live closest to) completely free of charge.
Was there a catch? Not really. It’s all part of Shortlist’s ‘48 Hours To…’ series, which has seen free short-notice gigs from the Stereophonics, Rudimental, Hurts and Gaz Coombes take place at venues up and down the country, all because Lynx managed to find some tenuous connection between crowded concerts and their target consumer base of sweaty posers.
And few bands scream spontaneity like grungy alt-rockers Drenge, who have had a pretty decent 2015, what with their second album Undertow surprisingly peaking at #14 in the charts back in April, and the band even getting a foot in the door across the pond thanks to an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. It’s all a damn sight cooler than the endorsement they got from a politician two years ago, and their live shows never fail to provide a brilliantly noisy and energetic night out.
The chaotic feel of the night begins before we even get into The Magnet, where many early arrivers are surprised to find that the first 25 minutes of the billed 7:00pm to 9:00pm gig time consists of queuing up in the rain on Hardman Street. Some people in the queue are handed wristbands, others aren’t, and are then asked where their wristbands are when they get to the door. A handful of foreign students turn up without bookings and unsuccessfully try and blag their way in, but gradually anyone who looks vaguely like they’re there for a rock gig is admitted. I’m no whiz on events management, but how hard can it be to just work out how many tickets have been snapped up and let the people in that have them, and why leave people out in the rain when they could be making bar takings? Still, they made up for that by charging about four quid a can once we were finally inside.
Shortly after 8pm, with the venue stuffed with hot and wet bodies, Drenge take to the small stage. Bassist Rob Graham now seems to be part of the furniture in the band alongside brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, who get things going with ‘Running Wild’ before rattling out the ever-popular ‘Gun Crazy’, and who wants to waste an opportunity to shout “I’m a cunt ‘cos I do what I want, and I do what I want ‘cos I can” back at three lads from Derbyshire?
It’s the masochistic fury of ‘Nothing’ that’s always a highlight at Drenge’s shows though, with the band barely visible behind a flurry of pumping fists. Along with ‘Backwaters’, it’s one of a number of their songs that basically uses a raging riff as a chorus. You actually hear people ‘singing’ along to the riffs almost like Beavis & Butthead.
Most of what we hear tonight comes from the band’s debut album, perhaps because its pace and punchiness is better suited to the 45-minute set. The tender ‘Fuckabout’ is an enjoyable change though, reveling in the Sheffield wit synonymous with Jarvis Cocker and the Arctic Monkeys, and ‘Let’s Pretend’ gets a new dimension as a set-closer, with Eoin’s anguished growls serving as an invitation for all manner of crowd surfing and stage diving.
If you go to see live music hoping to see a meticulously rehearsed display of note- and chord-perfect pieces, Drenge are not the live act for you, but if you see things like guitars dropping out and missed lines from an out-of-breath vocalist as part of the impulsive buzz of rock concerts, they’re unfailingly entertaining. They’re also a band at just the right size to be best enjoyed – not quite big enough to play at the vacuous venues sponsored by bland lagers and telecommunications companies, but with enough of a following to pack them in at charismatic small haunts in big cities, even with just two days’ notice.
It was made pretty clear all along that this wasn’t going to be a ‘proper’ gig, with even the band themselves referring to it as “that daft gig in Liverpool” on their Twitter feed, but you could easily pay and see a worse night of live music. It didn’t have the completeness and swagger of their gig at the Kazimier earlier this year, but for what it was – a cobbled together show put on free of charge – you can only be very happy.
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