“It’s a funny thing, rock’n’roll,” said Shame vocalist Charlie Steen during the Spinal Tap influenced opening of the band’s lockdown-induced livestream gig (filmed at Brixton Electric) earlier this year. “It never dies, but it has been gone for three years. And now we’re back.” Well, not quite.
Five months after the release of ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ and Shame still haven’t been able to play the sort of raucous, unifying shows that their second album was clearly created to inspire. Tonight in Brighton, they get close. The first of two socially-distanced shows at Chalk, this gig is part of a 14-date tour of independent venues in cities the band haven’t played before (plus Brighton, “because we love it here”). It’s one of the more extensive tours to take place since the pandemic shut down live music.
Walking out to the ‘I’m A Celeb’ theme tune, the band quickly bound into the snarling post-punk assault of ‘Snow Day’. Flickering between chaos and control, it’s the perfect introduction to an hour-long show that refuses to sit still. The synth led ‘Born In Luton’ is a glitching rager, ‘6/1’ is a stomping burst of aggression and the new wave blast of ‘Tasteless’ sees the band playing with party-starting urgency. Finally unleashed, the swaggering ‘Alphabet’ sounds absolutely gigantic live. Even the Britpop indebted ‘Angie’ – arguably the most straightforward song the band have ever written – flickers between tenderness and turmoil. The seated crowd can’t help but give it a standing ovation after bellowing every single word.
“It feels fucking good to be back,” Steen says before the thundering ‘March Day’. “It’s been too long but there’s some optimism and some hope”.
A lot of the responsibility to make the show as entertaining as possible falls on his shoulders. An animated character who talks with his hands, tonight Steen owns the stage like a very young Iggy Pop (and not just because they both love taking their shirts off). Juggling with one microphone (more impressive than it sounds), reciting The Lord’s Prayer as fast as possible, or leading singalongs with an outstretched mic stand, he uses every party trick in his book to bridge the gap between artist and audience. However, he’s only this good because he must be. The rest of the six-piece band creates a textured, ever-shifting wall of sound that’s just mesmerising as Steen’s antics.
While the many, many Shame shows around debut album ‘Songs of Praise’ were as fast and furious as possible, their livestream hinted at something grander. Tonight, it’s impossible to avoid just how commanding the band has become.
Maybe it’s the assembly hall set-up or perhaps it’s the more dynamic songs from ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ but at a time where most bands are trying to recreate a sense of normality, Shame are pushing themselves forward to create something new. Three years since that debut album, they’ve clearly had enough of waiting around.
‘Born In Luton’
‘Dust On Trial’