Sleaford Mods/Rainbow Grave/ Youth Man Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, Feb 20th
I’m late for Youth Man and just catch the chaotic end of the set involving a can of beer tipped over some poor unfortunate in the front row. I’m reasonably impressed by what I do see, although apparently they didn’t even do ‘Pass The Dutchie’. Rainbow Grave, as you may know by now, have arisen from the prone form of Backwards but rather than just replace drummer Doug and carry on they’ve become a different band altogether. I only caught enough of their set at the Supersonic christmas cocktail to convince me they were of a more rock leaning. Watching them tonight is a whole other thing, and enough to persuade me Backwards may yet return. Rainbow Grave are hateful. They hate my beard, the swine, and they hate the promoters pets too. In fact they hate everybody and everything, especially you. Based around Napalm Death founder Nic Bullen they have also gained fellow Brummie grindcore pioneer (and laterly local radio celeb) Johnny Doom (of Doom) on second guitar/glamour and they appear to have set out to revisit and gently mock their younger selves. This is slowly and masterfully unfurled throughout their set. Musically speaking it’s a kind of relentless Melvins sludge/noise type of thing and it appears at first that Bullen’s mic is up too high, his vocals too clear over the racket. Then it cuts out but order has not been restored, it’s quickly apparent we should be catching all of this and a proclamation between songs that we should just kill ourselves creates the wonderful tension that this is either a totally miscalculated disaster or a massive piss-take. Taking a supremely crap name evoking the four little ponies of the apocalypse should really have been a clue. A tune like ’10 million tons of shit’ just about walks the clever/stupid line of poetic brevity but as the degree of self involved woe increases so does the humour and it gradually becomes clear he really has to be kidding right? I don’t want to rob you of further enjoyment if you get to see them but the pay off in ‘I Control Your Mind’ is worth it. Wonderful.
So the Mods then. The most vital band in the land and so on. Where are we at now? At first it was hard to know what exactly to say about them and now it seems like there’s not much left to go at. The pace has been intense and the touring relentless. It’s easy to forget ‘Divide and Exit’, one of the best records of last year, isn’t even a year old – it already seems a long time somehow. Not even two years since I first heard them, less since about thirty of us were in the small room down the hall watching, gobsmacked, the most punk rock thing we’d seen ages. Here we all are in the big room, packed tight. They’re still great, still insistent, still vital. What’s happened? What might happen? Well first up, any fear that the grind of constant touring might dull their edge is shot right out of the water tonight but there are changes too and they seem more at ease on stage. Andrew still bobs happily behind his laptop with a can, tonight he’s wearing Wiggum, and Jason still screams into his mic but I’m guessing he’s a lot less worried he’ll forget the words these days, he even shifts the pace and emphasis on occasions. He paces the stage pulling faces, squeezing his moobs, pretending to be quasimodo and trying to make Andrew laugh. In ‘McFlurry’ he spots the disco ball above my head “I’ve got a brit award, I’ve got a glitter ball…”. They play almost twice as long now and still keep the pace and urgency up, the set packed with the best of the last two albums and the string of great singles on ‘chubbed up’. The size of the crowd has a different feel to it, a buzz about it. Jobseekers and jolly fuckers who feel like the band belong to them, are them. They are special in that way, different, people trust or believe in them. I’m sure this sort of thing used to happen more often with bands but I’ve not seen it in ages. Maybe I’m old. Singing along is another new twist, Jason’s way with words and the identification they create makes you want to sing along, but they don’t really have choruses and he spits it out at a fierce rate. There are some random and aborted attempts firing off here and there in the crowd, it’s about finding the right moments and the double whammy of ‘Fizzy’ and ‘Routine Dean’ prove how well they can do that terrace chant thing. Who wouldn’t want to yell along to “I hate what you do, and I don’t like you”? They deserve the bigger, devoted audience and to reach yet further, weird as it gets (there’s already a comic strip they post on facebook). But you can’t quite shake the idea there’s a ticking clock, that it can’t go on. I don’t know why, early reference points in reviews The Fall and John Cooper Clarke have both got endless entertaining mileage out of their own basic formulas and there’s no reason to think the Sleaford Mods can’t do the same, the writing gets stronger and the music is more varied or open ended than people often appreciate. How they’ll find time to write and record with the amount of touring is a mystery but a new album is due sometime this year. There’s no new material tonight but one of the newer tunes ‘6 horsemen’ shows they’re wise to the pitfalls and nonsense of getting bigger, maybe they just want to avoid Borrell’s bad calculation. Still, they’re about to make a film as they tour in the run up to the election, capturing the country and the band at a specific point and if the hideous, depressing, prospect of this year’s general election doesn’t give him more to rage about I don’t know what will. They end on a fierce ‘Wage don’t Fit’ pop behind the speakers for a second and back out again to encore with ‘Tweet, Tweet, Tweet’ probably the best thing they’ve done so far, a definite expansion and refinement of their earlier tunes. More of this please chaps.