Fat White Family are so good live they made a woman stop looking at her mobile phone

Even if you have signal

To mangle up a quote from explorer Wilfred Noyce, Fat White Family are like a desert, they either fascinate or appall you. I mean, it’s hard to ignore a band who have made rock feel dangerous again, mainly by treading the border between gender politics and simultaneously flirt with fascism. On the other hand though, there’s always the feeling that the only thing that lies beyond the confrontational attitude and militaristic outfits is a fairly run of the mill indie rock band.

The South London ensemble have been peddling their mixture of glam rock, punk and scuzzy psychedelia for a couple of years now, and the slow graduation from the Brixton Windmill to deputy festival headliner (they go on before St. Vincent) has been like a sprinter converting to a marathon runner. Luckily, this evening at End of the Road is a reminder of how great of a live band they can be. Strolling onto the spacious Woods Stage just as the sun just starts to dip below the horizon, they are at their pulsating, chaotic best.

Keeping stage banter down to a minimum, the band deliver their set with the malevolent efficiency of a team loading up a catapult. Relentlessly building the pressure with a mix of album tracks, when the ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ finally hits its like a hammer. All of a sudden, the crowd is hypnotised. Even the girl sat on the grass next to us who had spent the first half of the set playing on her phone, is suddenly stood with her eyes fixed on the spectacle.

Frontman Lias Saoudi is the glue that holds the whole thing together. Commanding the stage in a similar manner to Jagger or Iggy in full pomp, he has the restless presence of a loaded gun – a knot of potential energy that always seems like it could go off at any time.

However, as always, I’m left with the sense of nagging doubt whenever I come in to contact with Fat Whites. Ending with a sing-along version of ‘Touch the Leather’ there is no denying that they are a great live band, but, to me at least, they’ve always come across as a band that aspires to be more subversive than just being a ‘great live band’. The problem is, that beyond the gaunt expressions and in your face nakedness, I’m struggling to figure out where that subversion leads to, either musically or conceptually.

Fat Whites are kind of in that early Primal Scream phase. They have a collection of ideas that really work, but they haven’t yet managed to assemble these into a record that is truly groundbreaking. If they can just keep this show on the road just a little bit longer, that day isn’t that far off. It’ll be properly scary when it happens.

Fat White Family, @ End of the Road festival, Friday 31 August 2018

Photo by: Rachel Juarez Carr