Expectation is the mother of all f*ck ups: killer of vibes, underwhelmer of crowds and last shelter of critics who spend years building it only to watch it cripple the conflicted recipients. Pressure under the whip of hype was enough for instance to see off Lee Mavers completely, an unrequited obsession that left half a generation dangling like snakes from a disappointed tree.
Shame are a quintet from South London who, back a million years ago in mid-January released their debut Songs of Praise to a fevered reception from bored punks with a small P to thrill seekers disenfranchised with guitar music’s endless cyclical patina of erase & repeat. Inspired by – or mimicking as their little army of detractors would have it – The Fall, The Stooges and Madchester it was an album on which the argument was decisively for them carried by sheer energy, a polemical stride which brazenly told, not asked, the listener to love it or leave it.
Since returning to the UK after a lengthily improbable jaunt around some of America’s less trodden ‘Burgs – Blooming, Carborro, Mesa – the Sold Out signs have been up at venues across the country and tonight at The Brudenell is no exception; the venue is deliberately far from intimidating but it’s also one which has in the past witnessed capacity shows by Mogwai, Johnny Marr and local heroes The Cribs.
If any of that bothers any of them it’s buried deep beneath a sheen of youthful hubris. Live, they’re still in the intimacy phase; rolling his shoulders like a piston, singer Charlie Steen beckons the audience closer to the front every time his cohorts almost imperceptibly turn things up a notch. He’s mightily honest as well about the album’s pop Trojan horse One Rizla, pithily dismissing it as “A pop song we wrote when we were sixteen” before knowingly turning in a blistering rendition of their GCSE pseudo-hit. Not everything is as sweet; Praise’s devil capers around in the avant-garde bends of The Lick and its killer rejoinder “Relatable, not debateable” may yet become a millstone or a war-cry. As yet who knows.
The future though when you’re barely in your twenties and playing to a crowd of increasingly frenetic sweating bodies must feel like another act’s problem. Only drummer Charlie Forbes remains relatively passive as just in front of him on the Brudenell’s compact stage his bandmates incrementally coax the audience into a near-frenzy, songs like Concrete, Friction and Dust on Trial each taking on powerful new dimensions.
Steen relishes every moment, stripping to the waist part way through, millennially wise beyond his years after time spent with arch hedonists Fat White Family, reminding everyone this art is disposable entertainment but then confusingly warning the throng that this would be the last opportunity to see them in “A long time.” They play Leeds Festival in August.
A rousing fifty minutes or so ends with Gold Hole, a story just as much about inner conflict than the superficial mask of condemnation it wears for a girl selling out to sugar daddy. As with many of Shame’s songs, it’s victims aren’t quite what they seem however. Fitting a pattern, the words feed a consciosuly deeper narrative, one where their reason to exist seems to be to expose us to things we don’t want to think too much about, hence the strangely incendiary effect they have on some people. That’s the funny thing about expectation though, it either renders you dumbstruck or gives you a thousand things to say when you have the world’s ear. As tonight proves it’s not after all like the meek will inherit the earth.