5th April | SWX
Photos: Craig Simmonds
It’s a dilemma as old as rock music itself. You’ve had some level of success with a certain sound, a certain approach. Do you play it safe and keep to the same formula, or do you change it up, keep things fresh, and hopefully win a bigger audience?
Drenge leaned heavily towards the latter approach with their recent third album, Strange Creatures. The band’s first album in four years, this was a considerably more poppy, less edgy effort than their previous two records. While a number of critics praised the record for its ambition and its more expansive sound, many long-term fans were unimpressed, with the record debuting at 52 in the UK album charts, compared to 14 for its predecessor, Undertow.
Not that this Friday night crowd at SWX cared too much about all that – many wouldn’t have seen Drenge for several years, if at all, and they were here to make the most of it. The band were in that spirit too, and wisely opted not to make the new record the sole focus, instead making the old classics the core of the setlist, sliding in the Strange Creatures songs in between.
Early signs were good. ‘Prom Night’ made for a strong introduction, and ‘Autonomy’ and ‘Bonfire of the City Boys’ bristled with intent, fitting in well with old favourites ‘Face Like a Skull’ and ‘Never Awake’. The new songs generally sounded a lot more interesting here than they did on the record, and a number of the cynics may have been converted somewhat by what they heard here.
Unfortunately the show rather lost its way in the second half, notably with a truly horrendous reworking of ‘Backwaters’. Little tip for all bands out there – fans are never, ever going to thank you for playing pretentious, slowed-down versions of your best songs when they come to see you live. God handed out one hall-pass on that one, to his alter-ego Eric Clapton on ‘Layla’, and He will never hand out another, ever. Followed up by a curiously lacklustre performance of ‘Running Wild’, the energy in the room subsided a little.
It was brought back to life with a fierce ‘Bloodsports’, probably the best song of the night. “THAT’S MORE LIKE IT!” yelled somebody from the crowd, and indeed it was. Still, the mood was set somewhat. Traditional set-closer ‘Let’s Pretend’ always used to feel like a brilliant way to end, building up to that fast crescendo, but tonight it felt tired. ‘We Can Do What We Want’ was terrific in the encore, but still, this felt like a show that didn’t quite live up to its early promise.
Still, there were definitely plenty of positives. The band were tight, and loud. Eoin Loveless is never going to be the chattiest frontman, but having the extra guitarist on board did give him the freedom to rest his axe and be a more energetic stage presence. Like the Strange Creatures album, this show was flawed, but both are representative of a band that is working towards something new, something bigger. The energy and ambition are clearly still there. This is a band that has always hinted at being destined for something truly great. Don’t bet against their next step being the one that takes them there.
See the video for ‘Autonomy’ here: