The Rakes: Exeter University, Lemon Grove,Friday January 27

The Rakes: Exeter University, Lemon Grove,Friday January 27

Get out of the Wetherspoons and on the road with The Rakes' punk pub crawl

Since last year, London agit-punks The Rakes have gone from being slaves to a life of Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep), to the glamorous world of indie rock’n’roll and a life of Tourbus, Tourbus, Tourbus (Pub, Club, Knob-rot). The only real difference being they’re now allowed to work after six shots of WD40 and a Diesel Tequila. But, tonight, on the opening date of their 2006 tour, these thin young men are here to prove that while Editors may have conquered FM radio with their polished miserablism and Hard-Fi may have ram-raided the Top 10 with their oik-pop, it is The Rakes’ edgier, shiftless punk that really deserves attention.

Tour support White Rose Movement come complete with an anti-Nazi name and some pro-Nazi haircuts, but they are clearly more than just pretty scenesters. With songs like ‘Love Is Only A Number’, WRM mix Depeche Mode’s electronic eroticism, Bowie-esque glam-pop and the helter-skelter aggression of grime. From beneath their swamp of fuzzy art-dirge they emerge with thrilling vitality and refined depravity, causing visible ripples in the audience.

The Rakes themselves look less like alco-punk heroes and more like overworked clerks. But as they launch into a supercharged version of ‘Violent’, they are transformed from Bob Cratchets into Patrick Batemans, slaying all before them with a buzzsaw piece of punk rock. Following this with the Darwinian freak out of ‘We Are All Animals’ nearly pushes the crowd over the edge. With beer cans flying everywhere, guitarist Matthew’s glasses are knocked from his face, leaving a roadie trying to balance them back on his nose.

Jangly newy ‘Man With A Job’, the Cribs-like stomp of ‘Open Book’ and the Blur-ish melancholy of ‘Binary Love’ are all beefed up by the appearance of new keyboardist Ethan Edwards. Backstage, Alan Donohoe reveals the criteria used for choosing someone to fit in with the finely-tuned touring machine of The Rakes: “Musical ability’s all well and good, but you’ve got to ask, does he have a fringe? Does he wear dark, menacing, well-fitted clothes? Is he quite thin? Is he quite pale? Does he like a drink?” Lady Liquor still watches over The Rakes like a kindly aunt: tonight, Alan refuses to go on with ‘Work, Work, Work…’ ’til someone gets him his wine.

Once the man has his poison he plays the master of ceremonies with frantic panache. He is a turbulent mixture of Ian Curtis and Michael Barrymore. One moment strangling the microphone with a look of goggle-eyed madness; and the next charmingly dedicating songs to Preston & Chantelle™ and doing funny walks.

“This will hopefully be our biggest ever hit,” he smirks cockily, before crashing into new single ‘All Too Human’. It’s elegant disco, less overtly punk than anything previously released, centering around a new wave surf riff and a tale of typically Rakish loneliness (“I need you/I need you/I seriously do/I’m not even drunk yet/I’ve only had a few”). Opening the encore ‘The World Was A Mess’ (surely a future single) sets the audience alight. “Are you ready for it? Are you gonna go nuts?” asks Alan as the pounding, jubilant chorus reprises for a singalong and they close on a high with ‘Strasbourg’. The monosyllabic chant of “Rakes! Rakes! Rakes!” carries on well into the night. The Rakes may not be globe-straddling megastars, but in 2006 they’re just where we want them – slowly taking over Britain, city by city.

Alex Miller