“Everybody take a step back or you’re gonna squash one another,” jokes Isaac Holman as Slaves open proceedings at New York’s Governors Ball 2018. Stricter security measures and a delay opening the gates mean there’s barely anyone in the festival arena when the Kent duo begin their set, but – aside from a couple of wry quips – they seem oblivious to the meagre bunch in front of them.
Instead, Isaac and guitarist Laurie Vincent perform with all the same energy and fury as they would to a sold-out venue of thousands. During first track ‘Sockets’, Isaac performs a series of high kicks as he thrashes at his drum kit, while Laurie joins in the percussion aerobics, kicking a cymbal during ‘White Knuckle Ride’. There’s a renewed ferocity to Isaac’s vocals too, each line roared into his microphone and twisting into raw rasps.
Their brief setlist today (June 1) covers nearly their entire discography, with only second album ‘Take Control’ not represented. Excitingly, though, the pair have sandwiched a couple of new tracks in between familiar favourites, giving NYC a taste of their upcoming third album. ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’ sounds like classic Slaves – a grinding guitar riff and battering beats bellows lines about “taking pictures of the lives they wish they had”, “weekend warriors” and “weekday slaves”. A mid-song break gives the singer and drummer pause to stalk the stage, looking like he’s doing his best Hulk impression, before a relentless crescendo. ‘Photo Opportunity’ shows a new side to the band. Laurie’s fingerpicked guitar melody soundtracks the verses, while the chorus is the most anthemic they have revealed so far. It sounds like vintage Green Day, and you’d better believe it suits them.
Appetites duly whetted for the new album, there’s just time for two more oldies. There’s a positively vicious version of ‘Beauty Quest’, in which Isaac screams out the line “I just want to be beautiful” with intense zeal. At its end, he flops to the floor, drenching himself with water, only to haul himself up for one last go around with ‘The Hunter’. As he delivers his last part, he yanks his mic backwards, sending the drums either side of it hurtling to the ground. Laurie gestures to his bandmate that they should get a drink, and so they do.
This is Slaves, though, so that doesn’t mean they’ve got a couple of pints waiting for them backstage. Instead, Isaac clambers off stage, runs down the aisle separating the two sides of the audience, and hoists himself over the barrier. A minute later, Laurie joins him and they skip off towards a bar in the distance. The crowd follows and the boys happily pose for photos, having just turned what could have been a faltering start to the festival into a triumph – yet more proof that you should never underestimate this band.