15th November | SWX
Photos: Alesha Hickmans
You couldn’t clearly hear many of the actual words of Charlie Steen’s vocals in the mix at SWX on Thursday night. I won’t bang on about it. It’s not as if most of us didn’t know the words, nor as if we failed to sing along raucously, but that’s beside the point.
Anyone dipping their toes into the murky pool of Shame would have had little idea what Steen was on about, potentially reducing him to a set of vaguely intelligible noises and some highly demonstrative, charismatic facial expressions. And despite the self-deprecating line about his voice on ‘One Rizla’, his sinister, gruff suavity does fit hand-in-glove with the band’s words. You can’t blame the guy – he’s hardly going to stop, mid-song as ask, “Can I have a bit more riotous ire in my monitor?” That’s the last time I’ll mention the sound mix. Honestly.
When Shame threw Songs of Praise into the pit of disunited national despair in January 2018, it gave many a reassuring feeling. Britain may be on its arse, but there are still vital signs of life out there and green shoots of recovery could sprout from this kind of unfiltered, unashamed thinking. It was like applying a defibrillator to the ailing British invalid. Shame blatantly have an abundance of spunk and aren’t afraid to flaunt it.
They are excellent provocateurs, too. You wanted a pre-stage-entrance, post-punk anthem to make the crowd a bit ‘Ian Curtis’? They walked on to ‘We Like To Party!’ by Vengaboys with ‘SHAME’ illuminated in six-foot-high capital letters behind them. A Shame party starts with ‘Dust On Trial’, with the rasp of Eddie Green’s guitar line and Josh Finerty’s bass tremor. That’s a song beginning with, “I’ll always be here to hear your words.” I’m saying nothing.
A Shame party also involves a game of Pass The Steen. If he’s still in your hands when the music stops, you’re not actually allowed to remove a layer, but you can be pretty sure nowadays that he’ll do that himself soon and tweak a nipple or two (his own). He was into the crowd within the first song, as well as mounting the barrier and surfing during the rabid monologue, ‘The Lick’, with its assertion, “I don’t want to be heard if you’re the only one listening.” I’m still saying nothing.
They were excellent hosts. Between songs, we were thanked for coming and asked to make sure that everyone around us was having a good time. Shame spaces are safe spaces. Good news, then for when the Shame bus returns to Bristol on December 3rd at Rough Trade to celebrate being RT’s album of 2018.
It was endearing how ‘One Rizla’ was still preceded proudly with “This is a song we wrote when we were sixteen and seventeen.” It’s like your mates who tell you about a goal they scored in the playground years ago, except about a million times more impressive. At the age when some young males struggle to produce a coherent sentence, they came up with that. It made us all feel youthful just to hear it.
There were sumptuous tasters of new material in ‘Human’ and ‘Exhaler’ that will surely feature on the next album (which I hope they call Countryfile). Particular highlights came from ‘Friction’, sounding like a slightly Halloween-y Happy Mondays and ‘Concrete’, which ripped through the room, with its refrain of “And I hope that you’re hearing me,” more or less detectable. Just saying.
The Mercury Prize judges missed a trick with Shame earlier in the year. We missed some of their fine lyrics at SWX. Neither fact detracts from how viscerally electrifying a Shame show undoubtedly is.
See Shame perform ‘Dust On Trial’ live on KEXP here: