Having had the privilege of playing at The Fleece a couple of times, I can tell you that it’s an odd room to perform music in. Getting a circle pit going around one of the roof supporting pillars has been achieved many times through the establishments long and illustrious history, but with bands like HECK and Black Peaks on a bill, you wouldn’t expect those ageing pillars to last long.
Support for this night of the co-headline tour came from This Be The Verse, a London based quartet that have only just left the capital to spread their wings on some select dates of this tour. In all honesty, I had trouble figuring out how they got on the bill. The support on the other nights across the country was in the shape of the crushingly brilliant Bad Sign, who I’ve happened to catch a few times before, and This Be The Verse did have a lot to live up to in my eyes to justify their position on arguably one of the biggest underground rock/metal tours of these post-festival season months.
Unfortunately for them, I don’t think they pulled it off. It was clear from their set that they had energy, potential and enthusiasm, but it was mired in what can only be described as mild stage fright. They looked like a band thrown in at the deep end and seeing a large crowd in an alien city for the first time, and announcing that this was their first tour outside of London, meant it all seemed to be a case of “get out of the capital more often and then come and see us”. Musically good, just needed more confidence given the company on the night.
I will confess, I’ve only seen HECK when they were in their Baby Godzilla days, at a show in Southampton where they climbed walls, drapes, stage curtains and almost set fire to the backstage area (apparently). Back then, I would have accepted their stage performance as youthful exuberance and a bit of punk rock style vigour. But I always felt they could pull a song or two out of their locker if asked in future. Actual songs, not just screaming and running around. This night, they went for the latter. The singing duo of Johnny Hall and Matt Reynolds spent most of their time in the middle of the venue or standing on the merch table and bar, screaming into their microphones with venom and reckless abandon.
That’s the good points over. The problem with these guys running all over the shop is that, firstly, the rhythm section (which were very much on point) were left to cover for the two other band members. I’m sorry, but if you play guitar in a band, show off as much as you like, but play your bloody instrument. Don’t just abandon your songs because you fancy climbing onto the bar. There was subsequently no dynamic to their set, no finesse, no musicality that I could discern as the ‘songs’ blended together into the same blast beat/bass combination of the last three. I wasn’t impressed, and can only hope that this tour with Black Peaks will give HECK a view on what they could become. Bring the stage presence (or off stage chaos) to the table with some aurally impressive but more refined riffage and they can follow on the coat-tails of their co-headliners as true rock greats, not just another screaming band.
Black Peaks came on stage to a room that was waiting eagerly for them. Anticipation grew from the last raucous note of HECK’s set and when ‘White Lies’ (from debut album Statues) finally rang out through The Fleece, fever pitch was definitively reached. Black Peaks have managed to obtain some kind of equilibrium between the screaming power of their tour buddies and sweeping dynamic changes with progressive elements that have seen them go from Brighton’s brightest prospect to arena smashing underground legends.
Their set felt gigantic, powerful and refined, everything you would expect of a headline act. The band commanded the stage and didn’t need to leave it to grab your attention. Their album tracks translated brilliantly to the live arena, something that’s difficult to do in 2016 with all the techno tomfoolery that happens in the studio these days. My only criticism would have to be that Will Gardner’s vocals diminish around ¾ of the way through a live set, although given the scale of the challenge he gives himself in this department, it’s not a surprise. Their 2000 Trees set was plagued by the same issue, and if Black Peaks want to ramp up their level of conquest, it’s something they can easily combat.
Another great night at The Fleece, it has to be said. All the acts made a strong case for their place on that hallowed stage, regardless of their failings (in my humble opinion) on the night and if you get a chance to jump on any other date of the tour I’d tell you to do it. You might enjoy it more than this wizened old grumpus!
– Mike Barham (@mbarham1138)