Glasgow to London25-29/10/09
As any Oasis fan won’t tell you, there’s nothing quite like attending every date of a tour to realise just how much bands ‘go through the motions’ on the road. ‘Rockstar’ may be the best job in the world, but a job it is, nonetheless, and one that autopilot was really made for. Before long, gigs simply get in the way of drinking and doing very little. Long before the end, Oasis had gotten so bad at disguising such a fact that one sluggish show per album tour would suffice in dispelling the myth that the band wanted anything from you but your money. And so, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we hosted Crocodiles’ debut UK tour.
“You can move forward if you like,” offers singer Brandon Welchez at Plug, Sheffield. Opening lines like that are not for the ears of promoters – Why can people move forward? How comes there’s room for that sort of behaviour? This place should be rammed!!! Etc. So Plug’s a little spacey tonight (despite a bill that also boasts Leeds buzz-kid Spectrals, who bobs to his brilliant surf doo-wop, mutes his twangy guitar strings and sings like an un-affected, sweet Alex Turner, and The Hipshakes who tear through their garage noise set to machinegun drum raps); Crocodiles don’t seem to care: autopilot wasn’t for them last night at Glasgow’s Stereo and it won’t be tonight, or for the rest of the week.
Having ditched the backing track, Welchez and partner Charles Rowland are these days joined by two Marcos. They drum and play bass, in a leather jacket and a pair of leather trousers, respectively. They look good, but more importantly the sound they make is a vast improvement on that of Crocodiles’ previous twosome setup. The bass is extra overdriven and scuzzy, the drums less cold and more classically 60’s, especially on ‘Hollow Hollow Eyes’, which sees Marco No. 1 raise a stick on the offbeat while louche-ly bashing about like Charlie Watts in 1964 – not bad for a man who is a primary school teacher back home in Italy and hasn’t been behind a kit since being in a hardcore band, aged 12.
Whether in front of 20 people or 200 (and believe me, by the end of the week we can vouch for both extremes), Brandon is not only a visibly passionate frontman but also something of a thin-legged, black-clad star. Within a year, younger fans will no doubt curse their straight hair, wishing for a tight Bob Dylan bouf, and emulate his jerky, twitching dance moves. Tonight it’s not quite as desperate as 20 people, but lest we not forget the “move forward” request. Still, the singer repeatedly pounces at his mic stand throughout limited, Primal Scream-esque single ‘Neon Jesus’, thrusts his hips like an 21-year-old Tom Jones to ‘Soft Skull (In My Room)’ and drops to his knees for the closing ‘I Wanna Kill’, which ends differently every night, this time with a couplet from The Crystals’ ‘And Then He Kissed Me’. Vocally, his reverb-heavy Californian whine sits most perfectly in the mix in Sheffield, as we fully appreciate the following night at Manchester’s Night & Day Caf√©.
Support there comes from Egyptian Hip Hop and Mazes. The latter we know well from their lo-fi transistor indie, mixed through TV’s to produce their brilliantly swaggering debut single ‘Bowie Knives’, but from the former we expect something different to what we get. Their buzz-generating demo ‘Rad Pitt’ is perfect, forlorn electro pop – Metronomy meets The Cure – and is thus, unsurprisingly, the best track we hear played live all week. But the young four-piece also have a brasher side that makes their set one part foppish, new romantic and at least two parts crunchy grunge. However masterful their pop melodies are, we thought they’d be predictable in their sound; turns out they only are in their undeniable potential.
For Crocodiles, low vocals do slightly hinder tonight’s set, but Charles’ sharp guitars make up the deficit. He loops through echo decks, delay pedals and reverb switches, rarely playing chords but rather striking odd notes and attractive shapes, screwing his amp with his stringed thing to recreate the sound of a dozen multi-tracked Telecasters. He’s also the sharpest looking Crocodile, capable of shortening Brandon’s queue of female fans if he wasn’t happily courting Hollie Cook of the new Slits lineup.
Brighton will be remembered for its unforeseen nightgrub venue (Audio) and Crocodiles’ tour van breaking down en route, causing them to only just make the show, but also for a shambolic and wonky, but ultimately charming, clatter punk set by DIY girl trio La La Vasquez. London, then – aside from the date saved by last minute substitution Not Cool – will be the night that Brandon was unable to say “move forward” for bodies pushed up against the stage; the night Crocodiles’ encored with Joy Division’s ‘Warsaw’, crowd surfed, wrestled others to the floor and proved that ‘going through the motions’ really is for those with dwindling passion and little patience. Either that or for those who are very, very good at pretending they’re having the time of their lives.
By Danny Canter
Originally published in issue 11 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2009