Slaves have had such a fast and dramatic rise to stardom that it’s almost baffling. It feels like just yesterday they were a plucky duo of dapper punks with a monochrome Bandcamp page. Now they’re selling out most dates of their UK tour, they’re on their second top-10 album and have had Mike D from the Beastie Boys produce it. It would be baffling if it weren’t for their infectiously likable music.
Openers Shame were first in the queue to play to a dense standing crowd of eager early arrivers. In their oversized 80s-style outfits they look like extras from Weekend at Bernie’s, but their sound is very much on the trend of the current indie zeitgeist.
Twangy single note guitar lines, swashes of delay and reverb with a Fat Whites-esque vocal will likely go down as The Sound of UK Indie 2016 and Shame tick all the boxes in that category. Although they seem to have something of an identity crisis, flailing about in a way that suits music much heavier than they play.
Both second support Life and openers Shame had dedicated vocalists that exhausted all that one can do in terms of waving a mic stand about. Life’s vocalist Mez is like a Northern version of The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, with moves and shapes lifted straight from Jarvis Cocker’s repertoire. Despite having just one guitarist to Shame’s two, Life sound much more like a guitar band, with whammy bar dives and high gain solos scattered between their spat-out lyrics and driving discordant rhythms. Their set ends on a loud and cacophonous number. The bewildered audience forgets to applaud. I hope Life realise that the omission of claps doesn’t mean they did a bad job.
“Bring him out here, I wanna see him” says Slaves guitarist Laurie Vincent, like a punk Caesar with knuckle tats and a Fender Mustang. A stage invader has been foiled – presumably rather forcefully – by the security staff and Vincent is concerned. “The security people have got a job to do but, sometimes mistakes are made. I just wanna see he’s alright”. Drummer Isaac Holman is out of sight, presumably intervening.
The Defendant is brought before Vincent. “Do you admit that you’ve been a very naughty boy?” he asks like a Pythonesque Judge. He presides over an enforced hug between the invader and the security staff; Holman returns to his mark behind the drums and the set resumes.
There is a softness to Slaves that doesn’t always manage to come across in their music. They’ve achieved a lot with their format without compromising their sound – primal, angry and loud. There is an awful amount of empty space on the stage but Isaac (shirtless throughout) paces menacingly when he’s not fueling the rhythm engine, while Laurie (shirtless for the encore) almost never stops. Throwing the headstock of his guitar about like he’s fighting off an invisible opponent, teetering on the edge of the monitors and classic moves like Chuck Berry’s one-legged hop.
If the crowd before Slaves were water molecules coming to the boil, they erupted like geyser when tonight’s headliners started. There must have been at least 10 crowd surfers during ‘Steer Clear’, a softer song and definitely not the usual crowd surfing tune. It’s one of the few moments in Slaves’ set where they deviate from their usual gear – flat out. Slaves don’t seem to expect, or want, to be taken seriously, but in these moments where they deviate their delivery is hard to judge. The deadpan of a comedy band, like Flight of the Conchords when they send up a particular genre, feels a bit too close to the seemingly earnest Slaves when they play to a lofi electronic beat.
It’s hard for them to win because their setup is the perfect tool for the full-on, raging, up-to-eleven sound that anything else seems out of place. “You’re so boring when you’re nice”. But the alternative is a flat, undynamic set that lacks variation.
Slaves strike a nice balance, but everybody seems more comfortable with the more moshable tracks. It was refreshing to see ‘Girl Fight’ – mere seconds of anger and trashing – return to the set; it’s an excellent representation of the band because it says so much with so little.
Defying tradition, Slaves finish on newer single – ‘Spit It Out’. An audience member finally makes it on stage and pulls a face before a road crew member steps purposefully towards him, frightening him off. Vincent casts his guitar to the ground and Slaves leave the stage filled with dense feedback.
Slaves live sound is a different beast to the one they showed on either of their major albums. They’re the perfect rock n’ roll band for right now and they’ve pushed the limits of their sound to the very extreme. It will be interesting to see what avenues Slaves go down in future and whether they will sound the same in 2017.
For more on Slaves, visit www.youareallslaves.com
For more from the O2 Academy (B’ham), visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham
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