It’s been over a year since Working Men’s Club last played a live show to an actual audience. Instead, the west Yorkshire four-piece have had to make do with snarling down the barrel of a camera lens in the run-up to releasing their recent self-titled debut album (which received the full five-star treatment from NME). But tonight, as that brilliant self-titled record sits pretty in the UK Top 40 and with two real life, celebratory gigs to play at tiny east London venue Oslo tonight – all done and dusted by 10pm, of course – you’d think the band would be in the highest of spirits. If they are, though, they’re not letting it show.
They marching onto the stage for the first gig, before the seated audience, without saying a word, Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’ quickly replaced with the whirring industrial hammer of ‘Tomorrow’. Soundtracking a post-apocalyptic rave and with vocalist Sydney Minksy-Sargeant delivering lines about how he “hates tomorrows” with a straight face, it’s obvious that tonight isn’t going to be the chirpiest of affairs.
Thing is, Working Men’s Club have never been one for sugar-coating harsh realities and there are plenty of reasons to be pissed off right now. It’s why their music, inspired by growing up off the beaten track and being constantly reminded that rock stars don’t come from towns like their native Todmordon, feels so vital. It’s hard not to relate when whole chunks of the country are being told by the Government that their careers simply aren’t viable. The unavoidable isolation that’s been about the only constant of 2020 is alive and well thanks to the socially distanced set-up of the show tonight (normally Oslo would fit 375 punters; tonight there’s less than 50). Yet this amplifies everything Working Men’s Club rally against.
The guitar-heavy ‘Cook A Coffee’ sees the band pick apart our relationship with the media, its chant of “defecate!” the closest thing they’ve come to a crowd-pleasing anthem, while the cathartic exorcism of ‘A.A.A.A’s howling chorus takes on a new life when it’s screamed by a room full of strangers. “Is this enough to replenish me?” sings Minksy-Sargeant, as if hoping the answer is yes, but still feeling uncertain.
Rather than asking us to stream their album before midnight to help with their chart position, or noting just how weird this all is, Working Men’s Club let their electro anarchy do the talking. They don’t even stop between songs to hear the applause. The band are never emotionally distant, though, with the charismatic Minksy-Sargeant looking members of the audience dead in the eye as he delivers the nihilistic punk of ‘John Cooper Clarke and the moody snarl of ‘Teeth’. Tonight is a confident showing from one of the most bold, brilliant and exciting new bands around and proof that live music is at its best when it’s an unpredictable gut-punch. You just don’t get that on Zoom.