2nd February | Louisiana
“You’ll enjoy Heavy Lungs,” a nice young couple inform me as I sit down in the bar at the Louisiana. “They’re not nearly as chaotic as they used to be. They used to be…errr… yeah.”
As recommendations go, it has a similar feel to “You’ll like Aunt Mabel. She doesn’t get naked when she’s drunk nearly as often as she used to.” A bit of chaos is never a bad thing when it comes to punk rock, of course, but the point is well taken. It’s all fun and games until there’s a pensioner disrobing on the bar.
Heavy Lungs may only be barely eighteen months old, but this is a band that has already attracted considerable attention, partly because of their well-documented association with IDLES, but also because of their own raw musical output. Well-received in their support slot for Joe Talbot et al last year, this show at the Louisiana, which sold out in less than a day, is the closing date of a ten-date headline tour across the UK that has given the band an opportunity to further cement their growing reputation.
Support tonight comes from South London duo JOHN, so named because both of the band’s members are doctors. (Kidding, it’s because they are both named John). Unusually, the drummer in this band is also the vocalist. Aesthetically, it is a slightly challenging arrangement – generally, we are used to our singers being frontmen, and frontmen being at the front.
However, the feeling quickly passes with JOHN, partly because Johnny Skins uses a toddler-sized drumkit (exaggeration) that doesn’t hide him, but mostly because Johnny Git’s riffs are the size of a small planet, and because the duo are tighter than Big Daddy’s yoga pants. Tonight the audience are treated to a number of new songs, to go alongside staples from the band’s excellent debut God Speed in the National Limit, and on this evidence, particularly the closing pair ‘Laszlo’ and ‘High Digger’, their second album could be a significant progression again. One to look forward to.
Then on come Heavy Lungs, and it is quickly clear that there will indeed be a certain amount of chaos on display. There is a sense at times that the band is aiming to move away from a basic punk sound into more expansive post-punk territory, but that they sometimes struggle to depart from their base instinct to just make noise. There are moments tonight when it is clear that interesting sounds are being made, but are just getting lost within the wall of noise.
But for the most part, the chaos is harnessed well and only adds to what is a terrifically entertaining performance. ‘Blood Brother’ is fierce and impassioned. JOHN are brought up on stage to assist in a barnstorming version of the Black Flag-esque ‘Descend’, to commemorate Johnny Skins’ birthday. But probably the strongest moments tonight are those where there is a real clarity of purpose, such as on ‘Charmer’ and terrific newbie ‘Self-Worth’. These are the moments that point to the real potential of this band as they mature and hone their sound.
In any case, the energy and joy that this band bring make them an immensely enjoyable live experience. Someone fetch Aunt Mabel a whiskey. Poor old thing is looking parched over here.
See the video for ‘Blood Brother’ here:
Featured image also by Simon Moyse