New York punks Cerebral Ballzy played a feral show at Cambridge’s Portland Arms last night, beginning a two-week headline stint on the Monster NME Radar tour.
The evening was kicked off by local band Bloody Knees, who recently concluded a support tour with NME favourites Wolf Alice. Despite drawing an initially small throng to their early, 7.30pm slot, the band – fronted by floppy-fringed singer Bradley Griffiths – stormed through a set including youthful EP cut ‘Ears, Eyes, Ohs and Yous’, the grunge-infused nihilistic bounce of ‘Dead’ and ‘100 Days” relentless riffs, with Griffiths encouraging the audience to get the atmosphere going and thanking them for coming down early.
Essex quartet and recent Domino signings The Bohicas followed, who are set to play the first half of the tour (until November 21) before handing over to foul-mouthed Londoners Fat White Family (November 22-27). Clad in uniform leather jackets and entirely black attire, the four-piece’s classic rock’n’roll aesthetic was mirrored by their 30-minute set. Kicking off with recent AA-side single ‘Swarm’ – a burst of ‘Reptilia’-esque guitars and frenetic chorus – the band then moved onto ‘Bandit”s more harmony-driven vocals before introducing themselves to the venue.
“We’re The Bohicas… have it,” grinned their singer before launching into their other recent release ‘XXX’ – a mass of ominous, clipped vocals and an early Horrors-recalling guitar stalk. The Nirvana riffs of ‘Red Raw’ continued the group’s opening gig, before they “sped things up” with the driven rock and roll crash of ‘Bad Love’ and ‘Bloodhound’ and concluded with the hook-laden finale of ‘Where You At?’
Speaking after the gig, the band, who revealed that this was their first ever tour, were enthusiastic about playing with The Amazing Snakeheads – whose debut shows they labeled “amazing” before joking that by getting down early for their gigs ticket holders would get “more bang for your rock buck”.
Glasgow’s The Amazing Snakeheads then took to the stage, with an intense and wild-eyed set that was met with uniformly positive reactions. Opening with recent, snarling single ‘Testifying Time’, the three piece – decked out in shirts and suit trousers – then launched into ‘Vampire’, complete with ferocious drum crashes, dynamic changes and frontman Dale Barclay’s customarily unhinged vocal. ‘Knife’ followed – a menacing tale offset by a back-alley bass skank and Barclay’s howls that “It’s been three whole days with no end in sight”, while ‘Mountain Man’ contained similarly black-hearted lyrical offerings (“I have done unspeakable things” repeated Barclay with an unhinged expression).
‘Storm’ found the band facing the back and beginning in ominously quiet fashion before kicking in with a huge wash of drums, while ‘Can’t Let You Go’ provided the only lyrical let-up from the Scots’ relentlessly snarling musings. Finishing with ‘Flatlining’, complete with mad-eyed grins of “No more lies/ No more love/ No more hate/ No more hope”, the band then wordlessly exited, having remained completely devoid of between-song chat throughout.
“All the bands are totally different on this tour which is only a good fucking thing,” enthused bassist William Coombe after their set. “Variety’s a beautiful thing. Our intentions for the tour? Intention number one: take care of business. Intention number two: have a good time. TCB man, take care of business.” As well as enthusing about The Bohicas, drummer Jordan Hutchinson also joked of headliners Cerebral Ballzy that “About nine years ago, I would have been all about them. But now I’m too fat and old to get down in the pit and that’s what they’re all about.”
Despite having only landed in the UK a few hours before, Cerebral Ballzy managed to conclude the night in a storm of circle pits and sweat. Emerging through the crowd mid-way through thrashing opener ‘Puke Song’, frontman Honor Titus was a typically punk-spirited mix of anger and dead-eyed nonchalance throughout. After introducing themselves as “Cerebral Ballzy from New York City”, the band then stormed through a number of short, sharp numbers including ‘Another Day’ and ‘Insufficient Fare’ before declaring that ‘Cutting Class’ was an ode to “not going to school” and namechecking Cambridge.
The crowd were on violent form from the start, starting circle pits that accidentally knocked the band’s monitors off stage and keeping up the energy levels through cuts from Cerebral Ballzy’s eponymous debut and their forthcoming second release on Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records.
New track ‘Fake I.D’ provided a slightly more introverted moment, with Titus gazing at the floor and singing tightly into his microphone, while old favourites ‘Drug Yourself Dumb’ and ‘Skate All Day’ returned the balance to more typically chaotic fashion. New track ‘Speed Wobbles’ was introduced as a track “about skateboarding too fast” and provided one of the gnarliest new cuts of the night, while previous single ‘Don’t Tell Me What To Do’ saw Titus giving an audience member the mic to scream the chorus. “You kids are alright. Thanks for coming out to this beautiful tour,” thanked the singer before concluding with ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and exiting back through the crowd.
The quintet then returned briefly for a manic encore ending with ‘Causing Havoc’, during which the crowd were told to “fucking break the place – this is the last one”. “I’ve heard some really interesting sounds all night,” Titus enthused after the show. “We’re psyched to be on tour and it should be some pretty fun times. It’s pretty easy to tour with people, just be yourself and you’ll meet other people who are doing the same. We’re not here to start fights, we just wanna have a good time.”
At the end of the evening, local punter Robin, 21 from Cambridge declared The Amazing Snakeheads’ performance to be “easily the best of the night”. “They were the ones I came for,” he explained. “I quite liked the headliners, but Snakeheads had something a bit different instead of just being heavy all the time.”
Dan, 18, also from Cambridge said: “Cerebral Ballzy were sick. It was mad, everyone was going nuts. I didn’t really have a favourite song, they were all good. When everyone went mad at the end that was cool.”
The Monster NME Radar tour continues tonight in Coventry (November 16), before heading to Liverpool (17), Sheffield (18) and across the country before finishing in Leeds on November 27.
Cerebral Ballzy played:
‘Be Your Toy’
‘Drug Myself Dumb’
‘Skate All Day’
‘Don’t Tell Me What To Do’
‘All I Ever Wanted’
‘On The Run’