A gruff cover of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and it’s obvious where Cuomo’s stage presence comes from…
Deep within in the rusty hold of Thekla, The Orwells play a set of just over 35 minutes. It feels like it’s over before it’s barely even started, but full of cracking garage-punk tunes nonetheless.
Illinois school-leavers The Orwells stroll onstage five minutes after their abnormally early stagetime of 8:30 to delayed, surprised cheers. It’s a sold-out show and half the crowd are much older than the band, and still at the bar. There’s a sense it’s a bit too early, but everyone soon rushes forward as the band kick off with the title track from last year’s summer EP ‘Other Voices’.
The band look even more youthful in the flesh than they do in photos, but wild-eyed singer Mario Cuomo still looks like an adult hanging around with a bunch of kids, despite being only two years older. This doesn’t matter, though, because ‘Other Voices’ gets the crowd going wild – it’s exactly the sound of a mental night out, with its persistent hook I’m slipping in and you’re tripping out. The lyrics are about teenage spontaneity and doing stupid fun shit. Totally appropriate as Cuomo stumbles around the stage swigging from a wine bottle.
Next comes a double-blow in the form of debut album track ‘The Righteous One’ and new single ‘Dirty Sheets’. The former sounds like The Hives’ ‘Come On’ meeting QOTSA, whilst the latter boasts sleazy, screaming guitars and howling vocals in a witty tale of teenage lust. Both spark chaos amongst the crowd at the front, and one young Orwells enthusiast is spotted crowdsurfing with a backpack on – bringing images to mind of what their highschool performances probably looked like. That is, until they were suspended for covering The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’.
The Orwells play four songs from their lesser-known 2012 debut album ‘Remember When’, released when the band were still in high school. It bulks out most of the set, and any new songs aren’t introduced as Cuomo doesn’t speak one word throughout the entire show, leaving all the talking to lead guitarist Matt O’Keefe. He gives an endearing small speech about us having a “beautiful city going on” but otherwise doesn’t speak much apart from the initial intro.
Perhaps the band are tired from their relentless recent touring – it’s the last of the UK dates and they’ve come straight from a support slot in the US with Arctic Monkeys, to the UK and back again. The Independent claims they’re one of the best bands to emerge from the US in years. The NME tells tales of mooning, on-stage snogging, twerking and shirt-swapping with female fans in previous shows. There’s a lot of expectation.
The “total fucking chaos” the NME have spoken of doesn’t come, though – probably the most unpredictable thing that happens is the band throwing someone’s shoe into the crowd. It seems wrong to judge a band based on this, but when it’s a defining part of their identity and success so far, it’s difficult for it not to be influential.
The music doesn’t disappoint, however, and a seemingly impromptu cover of The Foundations’ ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ gets everyone singing and they’ve saved the best for last in the form of the anti-American masterpiece ‘Who Needs You’. A moshpit opens up for the thundering intro, a guitar riff that’s total madness and unrealistically catchy. “Listen up forefathers, I’m not your son” sings Cuomo, with a nonchalant expression as he twirls his mane of blonde hair.
The crowd can hardly believe it’s over and beg for another song, the band return to play a gruff cover of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and it’s obvious where Cuomo’s stage presence comes from: Iggy Pop is clearly an influence. They start to play another, but are stopped by security, leaving Cuomo disappointed onstage, asking innocently “what happened?” before being escorted off. It’s only 9:15, but the venue must be anxious to set up for the imminent club night.
Although they didn’t put on an outrageous display, they still nailed the show with their tiny but impressive back catalog so far, which is a difficult feat. Especially when you’ve just left school.
Watch the video for ‘The Righteous Ones’ right here: