Why can’t all gigs be on Friday nights? Well, alright, it’s logistically impossible, but it makes a massive difference. However good the bands might be, it’s just not the same on a schoolnight and when I think of the best gigs I’ve been to, most have them have been when the shackles of the working week are off and people are visibly more relaxed.
Added to my scrapbook of live music peak experiences is post-punk johnny-come-latelies Shame, fresh from their critically acclaimed Songs of Praise debut, with their classic “I was there” set in Liverpool last Friday. You know when you see a band at just the right moment, when they’re really too big for the small venue they’re playing at (District was a late change of location from the Magnet, which no longer appears to be operating as a music venue), but not big enough to be playing at sponsored half-full theatres of mediocrity. It’s a fine line, but Shame are on it right now and this is the time to catch them.
A more than able support band got us going in the shape of Berlin duo-turned-four piece Gurr. Admitting that they got to the venue in a bit of a rush, the garage rock girls’ sound check seemed to have a bit of a trial and error feel to it that ran into the first few songs, but it didn’t bother me or seemingly anyone else. Whether by accident or design, they were also a bit more sonic and crunchy in sound than I expected them to be having enjoyed their 2016 debut In My Head with its bright and often bedroom-poppy tones. Highlights included a stripped-down, slowed-down version of ‘Moby Dick’ and an honest introduction to ‘#1985’ about the pains of turning 30. The girls also offer some nice chit-chat with the crowd about subjects like local pizza places, which isn’t easy to get right across a language barrier.
By the time Shame hit the stage, it’s becoming the sweatiest, beeriest gig I can remember being at in a long time. A smartly dressed Charlie Steen swaggers onto the stage beer in hand, declaring his band as “Southern softies” and urging to “enjoy yourselves”, before gobbing his ale up in the air and showering the first few rows in front of him. It’s a fitting start to a boozy, rambunctious night where everyone seems to have a can of Red Stripe in their hands and Steen (who barely looks old enough to get served) gets through at least another couple while on stage – seemingly giving him a confidence boost he hardly needs.
Credit to Shame for not leaving crowd-pleasers ‘Concrete’ and ‘One Rizla’ until the end of the gig and actually starting with the first five tracks from the album. The former, hot on the back of intense opener ‘Dust of Trial’, gets the place really buzzing with the shout-back refrains of ‘No more questions!’ and ‘I hope that you’re hearing me’ unanimously returned, while the latter is probably the best received track of the night with its catchy chorus that’s both obstinate and self-deprecating, complete with a verse that’s just as easy to drunkenly sing along to as well.
Steen is teetering on the edge of the stage throughout, and by the fourth song ‘The Lick’, he’s dispensed of his jacket and launched himself into the crowd. Once ‘Tastless’ sets in, he’s lost his shirt too and is squeezing his nipples and thrusting about like a man who if he wasn’t on stage would be reported to the security with a gentle “keep an eye on him, will you?” He’s a terrific frontman – at times charming, at times unnerving. “Come forward”, he repeatedly urges the crowd. Is it an invitation or a dare? Most are curious enough to take the chance and are rewarded with regular hand clasps and high-fives from the sweat-drenched Londoner. The rest of the band keep their distance from him, but are by no means static, regularly shuffling and swapping places on stage to add to the menace and chaos of the set.
We’re treated to a snarling, as yet untitled new song, and the pace and energy drop a little for the reflective ‘Angie’, which to me has an almost Oasis-like, ‘song for the people’ sound to it.
It’s soon back to the fast and frenetic with the quick-fire spewings of ‘Lampoon’, before a breathless performance concludes with ‘Gold Hole’. By now, several characters are tumbling from the stage, including a shirtless man dressed as Jürgen Klopp (or who just looked uncannily like him). With a turgid Merseyside Derby being played out the following day, this was thankfully a performance with the charisma, passion and unpredictability of Klopp himself, rather than the pragmatism and negativity of Big Sam Allardyce!