Flying bodies and near-death experiences: NME clings on as The Cribs’ shoebox tour flies into their hometown
So, you’re the mightiest punk band in Britain. You’ve just recorded the best album of your career. You’re on the third night of a tour that sold out in 20 minutes. Things are going pretty sweetly, right? Well, yeah, until somebody almost dies in your moshpit. Tonight it all went wrong for The Cribs.
The band are in Glasgow, facing a flooded venue. Undeterred, they lead a wave of fans to the pub next door. So far, so Cribs. The crowd start bouncing off the walls – again unsurprising – but tonight things go far too insane, and for a band whose last Scotland performance collapsed an Edinburgh stage, that’s saying something.
“I saw the bouncers charging towards me,” remembers Gary later. “I couldn’t see what was going on so I kept playing. And then I saw her. She was limp. I thought, ‘Right, that’s it. It’s all over. She’s dead. My band killed her. I quit now. Everything. Stops. Here.’” As the girl is carried backstage Gary collapses to the floor in tears. With the crowd not listening to his brother’s attempts to chill them out, Alex Kapranos, king of Glasgow, steps up out of the audience, clambers onstage and calms everyone down. After minutes of chaos and uncertainty, the news filters through – she’s alive. Relief all round, but with the crowd now resembling a pack of rabid dogs locked in a phone box, there is only one way to prevent a possibly fatal repeat: persuade them to sit down. For the entire gig. “In the end it was amazing, being able to see your fans, but I was really scared when I saw her collapse,” Gary says.
Nuala Doyle, the 19-year-old girl in question, was less fazed by the chaos she’d created – rejoining the audience before the end of the show and even getting up onstage to prove to everyone she was alive and well. “I was perfectly able to rejoin the crowd a short while later,” she said when we tracked her down a few days later. “The Cribs insisting everyone should sit down to enjoy the rest of the set without risk of further injury was a genius idea!”
Next night in Middlesbrough, absolutely no-one is sitting down. The Cribs – the people’s choice, Wakefield’s finest, the NME Award-nicking, back bursting, blood and drugs riot dynamo – are back in full force, crushing Britain beneath a crash of moshers desperate to injure themselves while dashing their brains out on the alter of Jarman. But, as one devotee flies too quickly for the struggling bouncer, he hits the deck and doesn’t get up. Everything. Stops. Here. The band stare at his unflinching body. They’re desperately willing him up, but it looks as if it’s happened again. Then out of nowhere: “Jarman! Jar-man! Jaaaarman!” – the fan pulls himself up and erupts into a chant.
The Cribs are back to remind us what punk gigs should be like. Their third album, ‘Men’s Needs, Woman’s Needs, Whatever’, is a blitzkrieg of slacker-punk anthems wrapped in pop clothing – a pissed-up missive of passion, hunger, intellect and the coolest fucking riffs you’ll ever hear. Tonight, onstage, it’s a monster, sending limbs scattering with all the intensity that classics such as ‘Another Number’, or ‘Hey Scenesters!’ have done for so long. The only problem with it, it’s too good. And that’s why things have been getting a little scary.
Little wonder then that backstage afterwards conversation is focused on tomorrow night. The homecoming gig. Wakefield. Around 270 fans are expected to be tussling in a room where four years ago a then unsigned Cribs played a gig so raucous that police temporarily shut it down. “I won’t be able to live with myself if anyone gets hurt,” Gary says. “I was shaken up when that girl hurt herself so bad, it’s just a rock show, it’s not worth someone dying.” As the gang march into the night, there’s a feeling that perhaps this tiny tour, designed to let the band recapture the thrills of playing to a small audience, is highlighting how far they’ve come. Perhaps there’s no going back.
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Jesus. One look at Wakefield’s Escobar and it’s clear that this venue wasn’t designed for nigh-on 300 demented Cribs fans – as evidence, a legal waiver was earlier signed on the band’s behalf, admitting that they take full responsibility for anything diabolical that happens. The doors open and in no time sweat drips from the ceiling and a wall of bouncers is already under construction. The excitement is palpable, but it’s tense as well – this is a powder keg waiting for a spark.
Cue spark: “Hello, we’re The Cribs and we’re from Wakefield.”
“Rooooaaaarghaararrghaaeeayy!” explodes Wakefield’s youth as the band charge into new track ‘MTV’ (full title (‘Major’s Titling Victory’), demolishing the Great Wall Of Bouncer with their first blast. ‘Direction’ throws more petrol on the flames which lick at the band’s feet. Barely visible behind their protectorate, Gary and Ryan bounce mercilessly through their now hit-laden set while Ross clambers on to his drum seat, smashing his way through this atomic event. The chaos before them is frightening. The amount of security needed to hold back the crowd is so vast that band and fans seem almost in separate rooms.
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Ironically, this small venue has taken The Cribs further from their fans. But, as ‘Wrong Way To Be’ announces its arrival, the wall dissipates and band and fan are reunited for one last heroic explosion. Ryan flies into the melange and the chaos finds its way on to the stage.
As the venue clears, we hear the strains of Chris De Burgh’s schmaltzy cheese anthem ‘Lady In Red’. Surely not. Sure enough, Ryan is back onstage, crooning his heart out before being picked up by the fans and carried out of the venue in
a strange victory parade.
Huge or tiny gig – The Cribs are the best live band on Planet Earth. Tonight’s show, tinged with fear and tension, is far from being a classic, and this will have to be the last time they play venues this small if they want to keep their fans alive. But with the ultimate indie band expanding and exploding at this rate, 2007 is going to be carnage.