Line Up: The Lawrence Arms / Sam Russo
Where: Islington Academy
When: 15th October 2014
It's been eight years since The Lawrence Arms released an album. It has also been a good few years since they last toured the UK, so as I walked into the venue I don't think I was alone in thinking that they had a little something to prove to everyone that has been waiting impatiently for their return.
Opening proceedings though was Sam Russo, a tattooed, bearded singer-songwriter that stood on stage with an acoustic guitar, a time-worn, croaky quiet voice and some very honest lyrics. He worked his way thought a fistful of gentle folk/country songs with twinges of blues that made for a particularly nice contrast at a gig that I had assumed would be entirely punk rock nostalgia. His album Storm is out now, and I'll definitely be having a listen.
As The Lawrence Arms took the stage (to the sound of Chers ‘98 dance classic Believe) there immediately seemed to be a lack of urgency in the room. There was a long pause as they plugged in, tuned up and got comfortable that was eventually broken by bassist Brendan Kelly announcing that "we came to rock your dicks and vaginas off". When they did eventually get started it was with The Devil’s Takin’ Names, which was followed byThe Slowest Drink… and for a few minutes it felt like they were out to remind us why they have a solid place in the punk rock history books. Kelly in particular seemed on good form, expending plenty of energy around the stage, lifting his bass high before throwing it down and screaming like a hellhound. Sadly some pretty substantial feedback issues fifteen minutes into the set (paired with an often unintelligible bass sound) seemed to squash his enthusiasm and things soon became far less exciting.
Unfortunately, after their initial burst of energy, this gig really did have the feel of a band going through the motions. Don't get me wrong, there were a few moshpit inspiring moments, a fair amount of fist pumping and some particularly nice juxtaposition from the quieter moments, but ultimately things fell a bit flat. I know that The Lawrence Arms have been around in one form or another since 1999, I know they are considered one of the most prolific punk bands out there and I know that this tour (and this album) has been long awaited by many. I understand that every room they play now will have forty or fifty die-hard fans who are going to love the gig whatever happens, so a little complacency on their part is, I suppose, understandable. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel a little disappointed.
To be fair, the front 15% of the crowd were entirely engaged throughout, but most of us were pretty static. That isn't to say it was a bad gig, with a back catalogue as rich and respected as The Lawrence Arms' it was never going to be a total wash out. It was, however, little more than a basic performance by a band that I would have thought would have a few more tricks up their sleeve by now.