11th October | Louisiana
Photos: Jonny Nolan
“I’m John. He’s John. We’re JOHN.”
It’s their traditional introduction, but tonight, it feels different. Seven years on from their formation, the South London duo are finally receiving the kind of national attention that their raw, earthy brand of punk rock deserves, assisted by regular airplay on BBC Radio 6Music. With that in mind, tonight’s show in Bristol, a place where they have had a strong following for a while, feels like a moment of celebration for them, amongst people who have been right there with them on their journey.
First up tonight are Sugar Horse, and they get proceedings off to a strong start with an intense set. The Bristol outfit really do take the ‘quiet-LOUD-quiet’ dynamic to its logical conclusion at times, rotating between smooth, slow verses and extreme, apocalyptic choruses. Singer Ash Tubb hardly lifts his head from the microphone at all during the set, holding the audience in his gaze the whole time. The crowd respond in kind, with hushed immersion seeming to be the general mood. The guitar and bass work is flawless too, and it’s hard not to be impressed with the overall impact, especially ‘Your Degree is Worthless and Your Parents Aren’t Proud of You’, which also just happens to be the best song title in history.
Next come Cruelty, another local act who have been hotly tipped in the wake of their fabulous debut single ‘Disgraced’, released earlier this year. While still a little unrefined at this point, their set tonight proves that this track was no flash-in-the-pan – there is something very special here. The layering of the sound, with the heavy basslines, the atmospheric synths, and the piercing lead guitar pieces, is quite exceptional, and the vocals are suitably expressive and desperate. At times, tonight’s set labours in excessive repetition, but tracks like tonight’s closer ‘Serpent’ prove ably that there is a level of genius at work here that you just don’t see every day. This lot are going to be really, really good.
Then on come JOHN, and they really look up for this one. Guitarist John Healey is always a guy who lives every note, but tonight his excitement is clear to see, bouncing across the floor like a speaker vibrating across a table, fed by the wall of noise. Drummer/vocalist John Newton, meanwhile, is on top form, at times struggling to form his sentences between songs, such is the energy he is putting into them.
New record Out Here on the Fringes certainly seems to have given the duo a new lease of life, and rightly so, for it is an exceptional record. At nine tracks (with one being effectively an interlude), it is perhaps too short to be a legitimate album of the year contender, but while it lasts, it’s about as good as it gets. JOHN play the full album tonight, tacking on the tough-on-drummer ‘Dog Walker’ at the end, just for this show.
The highlights tonight really reflect the highlights of the album – the bruising ‘Future Thinker’, the glorious riffs of ‘Western Wilds’ and ‘Laszlo’, and the slower rock of the title track. They play a bunch of top songs from their debut record too, but the new stuff is a step up, and the Johns know it.
Triumph. Victory is theirs.
See the video for ‘Future Thinker’ here: