Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Aatish Ramchurn
When I last saw Cabbage they were supporting Blossoms at the O2 Academy and, I felt, they stole the show with a brief, explosive set. Now they’ve announced a new EP, The Extended Play of Cruelty, and their biggest headline tour to date. Can the energy of their supporting act scale to a full set?
The venue was the upstairs room at the O2 Institute in Digbeth; a small room, which made for a more intimate experience. The first band on were Strange Bones, a Blackpool outfit who deserve a special mention.
Frontman Bobby Bentham was an absolute madman, jumping off the stage and into the crowd with a technician frantically spooling out the microphone cable after him. At one point he donned a balaclava shouting “BIG SISTER IS WATCHING YOU”, before approaching various members of the audience chanting “behead the despots” whilst waving his finger across his throat in a slitting motion. The confrontational manner of his lyrics matched his onstage presence – it was a cross between a bank raid and a political rally – with Bentham often addressing the younger members in the audience as the future “kings and queens”. He certainly had them on his side by the end of Strange Bones‘ short set.
Next up were The Blinders who calmed things down with their psychedelic guitar focused set. If Strange Bones brutally confronted the audience with political agitation, The Blinders came out with a more reflective approach. The lyrics took the form of poetic musings on life and society whilst the dream-like quality of the guitar produced a trance effect, which in a way deflated the audience who had been provoked into a frenzy by Strange Bones. Consequently this made Cabbage‘s entrance less bombastic, after being lured into a sedative mood by The Blinders.
There’s an elephant in the room. Cabbage have been embroiled in controversy over the last couple of months after it was alleged that lead singer, Lee Broadbent, had sexually assaulted a concertgoer as part of his performance whilst supporting Kasabian. These claims are denied by the band.
It’s tempting in these situations either to jump on the Twitter hate train or to leap to the defence of your favourite musicians, but I think we should do neither – we should refrain from indulging in speculation. I mention it because Cabbage made a point of thanking the audience for their commitment in the last “tough three months”, hastily adding that things can “get them into trouble”.
There was an overwhelming atmosphere of reciprocal gratitude and love between the band and the audience. Making such references indicated that perhaps Cabbage had lost a bit of confidence, something I felt with their quiet entrance and slow start, and clearly this allegation (and the negative media attention) has made the band more tentative . But by the end of the night Cabbage were back on form with the energy of the audience seeping into their set.
When I saw them last, Cabbage opened with ‘Uber Capitalist Death Trade’, which is a belter and probably their most recognisable track. This time they opened with ‘Terrorist Synthesiser’ which combines punk sensibilities, thumping drums with a funk edge, proving their dynamic range. They played a few new songs from their upcoming EP, including their new single ‘Celebration of a Disease’ which brought the audience to more of a quiet rumble instead of the loud cheering and singing which they did on Cabbage’s more memorable numbers.
The next new song (apologies, didn’t catch the name) proved more of a hit than the official single and could end up a fan favourite with an incredibly up-tempo drum beat and a good head banger. To keep up with the pace, singer Joe Martin raced through the lyrics half rapping them like a Streets song, which was fun but ultimately made it really difficult to understand the lyrics which are an important part of Cabbage‘s appeal.
Joe Martin got the crowd going with his ‘Dinner Lady’ and ‘Kevin’, the lyrics being chanted back by the audience and showing that Cabbage can dissect anything and everything to make a great song that resonates with both the disaffected youth and the beleaguered workforce. ‘Tell Me Lies About Manchester’ was a particular favourite of the set – the hypnotic chorus and bass rumbled along with ska inflections, creating a fevered sense of anticipation for the frenzied ending. One more song was dedicated to their drummer, Asa Morley, and was a great show-piece for him and his kit.
Cabbage put on a good show. Both front men were dynamic, moving about the stage and interacting with the crowd;Joe Martin did his striptease routine and ended up in just his trousers. And I am pleased to report that the only groping I saw was from the audience, after Martin and Broadbent climbed up on the barriers and everyone in the the crowd went somewhat mad. By the end of their last song, ‘Uber Captalist Death Trade’, it was clear that Cabbage are adored by their fans; a relaxed and confident grin appeared on the band’s faces.
Cabbage‘s new songs may not be as rough and ready but they have shown that the band can evolve musically and challenge their punk roots. However it can be hard to make out the words in their new material (which don’t have as much bite) and even the performances seemed tame – it doesn’t matter how much you’ve sharpened your rapier wit, if I can’t hear what you’re saying in a crowded room reverberating with amplified guitar chords then it falls flat.
Obviously these songs are new to both band and fans alike, so with practice and time they may well become more defined. Plus it’s all part of being the main act on the bill; I’ll just have to keep going to more Cabbage gigs to find out.
For more on The Blinders, visit www.soundcloud.com/the-blinders
For more on Strange Bones, visit www.soundcloud.com/strangebones
For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham
For more from SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours, visit www.gigsandtours.com