Words: Justin Hulford.
This is a compact venue right on the riverside (clue’s in the name), just on the Newcastle bank before you enter Gateshead. We weren’t especially early but could still pick our spot and plumped for an elevated view on the upper deck that runs along one side.
The So-So Glos lurched on and seemed very keen to make sure the sound man had them spot on – and I can’t really see why. They proceeded to limp their way through some very pedestrian punk that lacked real quality in any department.
One guitarist seemed a little self-absorbed and more interested in his elaborate pedal set up than actually playing his guitar, and the vocalist was as rough as old boots. His attempts at pseudo rap were especially poor as were the whole band’s efforts to produce four person harmonies.
You could perhaps forgive them if they delivered some raw energy and breathlessness but this is one band that has taken the “unk” out of “punk”.
It’s okay to be dissatisfied with a support and they certainly weren’t the worst I’ve suffered despite their many deficiencies. But the evening wasn’t going to improve as much as I was hoping. This is a good example of needing to restrict your gigs to bands you either like or at least fit your tastes. You can get lucky of course but it’s rare. I say that because it was clear that most of the crowd were enjoying it and one small clutch especially so.
The Hold Steady came on looking smarter, cleaner and more band-like than the So-So Glos. Their sound was perfect, which again says more about the support act than the sound man, and musically they were superb. But it’s the singer, Craig Finn, who ruined it for me.
He kicked off on vocals only and his stage presence can only be described as an acquired taste. He looked deliberately awkward, gurning one moment and standing oddly the next. He seemed to be interpreting a different song to the one he was actually singing and it simply put me off with its distractions. At least there was some performance in his actions, odd as they were, feeling like a robotic version of Tim Wonnacott’s Paso Doble (look it up kids!), because his voice was dull. If you’re a massive The Hold Steady fan then maybe I need to apologise but I just didn’t enjoy him at all, all motion on stage but flat and lacking depth vocally.
He picked up the guitar after a few and that did at least restrict his gyrating efforts and contain his movement. But it didn’t make his voice any more interesting. When they played one wholly slow song, as well as two fairly slow parts to others, it worked, the style fitting the reduced tempo. It also did its stuff in the one very fast song as he just had to keep up. Beyond that only a song I believe was called “Spinners” really did it for me.
They brought the So-So Glos on for a car crash finish and that was as messy and clunky as you would think it could be with nine people squeezed onto a small stage. It certainly didn’t leave me with a fun memory to take away from the night but rather just proved that the musical gulf between the two bands was massive. This was their last hurrah after their three week UK tour and a suitably limp ending you would expect from a finale on a Thursday.
The Hold Steady would be fine as a half hour support but the lack of variety from the vocals just meant most of the night merged into one giant samey blob with the aforementioned “Spinners” the one exception.