Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fightstar, Brixton Academy, 27/02/2015

Reunions seem to be all the rage these days. Refused came back for a string of shows in 2012 and seem poised to continue well into 2015. Sikth announced their long awaited reunion, starting with a fourth stage headline spot at Download 2014. Hundred Reasons re-emerged for a sold out show at McCluskey's last July with a slot at Sonisphere the next day. Thrice have recently announced a headline appearance at the UK's Hevy Festival in August.

Everybody loves a comeback.

Maybe it's something to do with a nostalgic hankering for the good ol' days (hence the seemingly endless parade of reboots marching out of Hollywood) but there's just something about a band rising from the ashes once more that really gets people excited, especially if that band were under-appreciated during their original run and/or cut down in their prime (The Abner, I will never stop hoping!).

When your band is named after Arnold's pet pig and sing songs about Indiana Jones,
you deserve to be in the goddamn Rock 'n' Roll hall of fame

Which brings me neatly to London Post-hardcore outfit Fightstar. I've been a huge fan since they first emerged on the scene in early 2005. Whilst not exactly an obscure band, they've definitely been under-appreciated during their time. Even now, ten years after the fact, my enthusiasm for the band is still greeted by some with a derisory snort and "What? The Busted guy's band. F**k that guy, he was in Busted". (As a side note: Seriously, people, are we still on that? It was over a decade ago, they've paid their dues, get the hell over it!). But whilst the band had its share of detractors, especially at the beginning, their early shows and frankly excellent first EP, They Liked You Better When You Were Dead, convinced many a sceptic (myself included) that they were the genuine article.

Two amazing albums and one decent album later, the band entered into a hiatus in 2010 to pursue other projects. Frontman Charlie Simpson started recording Indie-folk solo albums (both of which, Young Pilgrim & Long Road Home, I highly recommend), Guitarist Alex Westaway and Bassist Dan Haigh began collaborating as Gunship and writing film scores and Drummer Omar Abidi, amongst other things, has been recording solo tracks under the name Professor Crank (check him out on Soundcloud and be sure to listen to the track Starfield - It makes for some really soothing background music whilst I'm writing). Now the band have finally reunited for a run of shows in the UK before supposedly heading into the studio to record a follow-up to 2009's Be Human. Being the sort of salivating music-nerd that I am, I immediately snapped up tickets the moment they went on sale, eager to witness the comeback of an artist very dear to my heart.

Before I go on, I'll admit that this review is something of a cheat as I was also lucky enough to get a ticket to see the band's first reunion show at the Kentish Town Forum in December last year. But whilst that show was most certainly an electrifying experience for everyone involved, it was a mid-week show, close to Christmas and most importantly lacked the presence of one Andy Mizen.

A little background on Andy. Andy is one of my closest friends and has been since our days at University. He is affable, well-read, reserved and charming in almost every respect. Until you get him in the pit. Mosh-pit Andy is a very different animal to regular Andy. A psychotic miniature pinball, ducking and diving his way through crowds of marauding moshers, he makes for a hell of a presence in any pit, especially at a Fightstar gig. Andy feels much the same as I do regarding Fightstar, seeing as how the band are one of the two major cornerstones of our friendship (The other being our raging Doctor Who fandom). When I go to see Fightstar, I need Andy Mizen. For reasons far too long and stupid to recount here, Andy was sequestered in the upper balcony at the Forum show and unable to throw down in the fashion to which he's accustomed. This time, all bets were off.

Don't let that impish smile fool you; 
Those are the eyes of a stone cold killer

So the night of the big event finally arrived. Andy picked me up from my offices in Harlow and we set off for the O2 Academy, Brixton. Our conversation was largely preoccupied, as it often is, with the state of the current series of Doctor Who and exactly what works and what doesn't (in an effort to remain focused, I will avoid getting into the details and save these opinions for another night). After an hour of punk rock on the stereo and nerdy discourse, we arrived in Brixton and, through the use of what must of been ancient shaman magic, managed to find a free parking spot only a few minutes walk from the venue.

Having had bad experiences with having personal property being stolen at London venues in the past, we decided to leave as much of our valuables as possible within the car, opting only to bring our phones, IDs and a small amount of cash into the venue. In a further effort to save money and avoid my pet-peeve of queuing for the cloakroom at the end of the show, I decided also to leave my coat behind, go hardcore and brave the elements. I mean, as I thought to myself with the sort of wistful naivet√© that I should be long past at my age, "just how cold could it be?!". The answer, as it turns out, is very. If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: Don't walk around Brixton in nothing but a t-shirt and jeans in February.

Image result for man in cold weather
All poor judgement and no jacket makes Dan a dumbass

After grabbing a quick bite to eat at the local Weatherspoon's and being scared away from what we thought was a free table by a shaggy grey-haired pensioner, we headed over to the Academy for the show. Upon entering the main auditorium, we were greeted by the sounds of main support act, Moose Blood. The Canterbury based four-piece arguably had something of a tough job playing at a show of this type. When the headlining act is a band with a devoted fan-base that haven't had the chance to see the object of their devotion for many years, the support acts are often just something standing in the way of the main event. Fortunately the boys were up to the challenge. Their particular brand of honest, yet accessible emo rock reminiscent of that of Restorations, combined with their abrasive, murky guitar sound in the vein of O'Brother seemed to go over quite well with the assembled crowd of Fightstar fanatics and the reception is one of warmth for this up and coming group.

Once we'd anchored ourselves comfortably within the sea of people and met up with another friend, it was time to take advantage of Friday night to the full and purchase some alcohol. With the last Fightstar gig in December being, as I mentioned previously, a midweek affair, I was determined that this was a gig that I was going to "enjoy properly" (a phrase here that means "get monumentally hammered and ricochet off of every poor patron within moshing distance"). Without further ado, I made my way to the bar. Having decided that beer wouldn't sit particularly well on my stomach amidst the frenzy of a mosh pit, I concluded that a shot and a mixer would be the obvious choice. In an effort to save several trips to the bar and avoid contending with the nightmarish shuffling that occurs when carrying full-to-the-brim beverages through a crowd of tightly packed music fans, I further decided that I would purchase two double-Jack and cokes, then combine the two pitifully small drinks into a pint glass to create something vaguely worthwhile. I placed my order with the young lady at the bar, feeling smug and slightly superior at having "beaten the system" in such a way that was only perceivable to myself at the time. The young lady handed me my drinks, scanned a barcode or two and looked back up at me and said "That'll be £18.60, please".

Yup, that's pretty much what I looked like too

"Sorry, how much?" I asked, hoping I had misheard her amongst the din of the venue. "£18.60" she replied as I slowly, sorrowfully handed her approximately 90% of my remaining cash and took my change. I shuffled back towards the group, wondering exactly how I'd just let myself get conned out of what once upon a time would have been an entire night's beer money and being pretty sure that "nope, won't be doing that again!".

After taking my share of ridicule from my friends at my misfortune, it was about time for the show to start. The house lights go down, the crowd roars with delight as intro track, To Sleep, begins with it's gentle plucking of guitar strings and the band take to the stage to an even more rapturous reception. With the intro track over, the band goes crashing into Paint Your Target, arguably their biggest hit to date, and it's like no time has passed at all. The crowd delightfully sings back every line and Andy and I are enthralled in the spectacle of it all. Never ones to waste a moment (see what I did there, Fightstar fans?), Charlie and the gang head straight into another first album classic, Build An Army, and my heart begins to race. This has always been a favourite of mine (the song is a barn-stormer all the way through, but it's always the riffing that begins at the 2:40 mark that really gets me pumped) and I'm ready to unleash hell. The drop comes and pit goes wild.

Enthusiastic man taking selfie while crowdsurfing at concert : Stock Photo
Me, around the 2:41 mark

Four songs later and I'm beginning to wonder "Wait a minute...Why the hell am I out of breath? And HOLY crap does my chest hurt! Did gigs always hurt this much? I don't think they did as I'm fairly certain I'd remember if my lungs felt like they were on fire EVERY TIME". Perhaps it was this absent minded wondering that left my defences down or perhaps it was just bad luck, but it was around this time that a young mosher with arms the size of tree trunks flailed backwards and thrust his gargantuan weight-lifters clear into my throat and literally knocked the wind out of me. The sound was so clear and visceral that Andy heard it with his back turned, a pit raging around him and one of his favourite bands on stage turned up to eleven. After ascertaining that I wasn't in need of any urgent medical assistance, I threw myself back into the action as best as my ridiculously unfit frame could manage.

The band meanwhile are killing it with every song. They never miss a step, their time spent away having seemingly made them all the more effective together. They keep on playing hit after hit and the set list is jam-packed with fan-favourites. It's very plain to see from the energy on stage that the band are fully aware of just how much they mean to their audience. Having faced so much resistance from much of the alternative community due to Simpson's former career in the pop world, Fightstar are a band who know exactly how important their fan-base are to them, and it shows.

Following a particularly savage triple onslaught of Colours Bleed To Red, Deathcar and Tannhauser Gate, it becomes very apparent that I am suffering from what can only be described as the Murtaugh effect (if this reference is somehow lost on you, stop reading and go watch Lethal Weapon and it's sequels immediately. Go on, we'll wait). A mere five short years since my last Fightstar pit have rendered my body useless for the physicality involved in thrashing around in adoration. As I desperately clutch at my legs in an effort to support my wheezing torso, one thing is abundantly clear to me: I need to get myself back in the gym.

Male jogger resting : Stock Photo
"Nah, it's cool man. I'll catch you up when the burning stops"

After closing their main set with an intense rendition Palahniuk's Laughter, Simpson and Westaway return to the stage armed with acoustic guitars and put on a delicate, stripped down performance of Amethyst. The crowd obligingly bursts into song at every chorus and the effect is truly spectacular. With the announcement from Charlie that they do indeed plan to head into the studio this year to record new material, the band proceeds to play the remainder of their very first EP to their delighted audience, including a show-stopping performance of my all-time personal favourite, Mono.

With the show at an end, we slowly made our way through the crowds to the exit and were greeted once more by the freezing night air, the residual gig-sweat rendering us even more susceptible to the biting winds outside. A short walk to the car later and we were on our way home, ears still ringing and entirely spent of energy. As I reflected upon the evening's events, I was reminded of the many conversations Andy and I had previously had regarding the uncertain fate of the band. Many an evening's discussion had been spent speculating whether or not Fightstar had missed their window. Perhaps their hiatus had gone on too long and, aside from tiresome obsessives like us, audiences would no longer care when they returned. Perhaps Charlie's success as a solo artist would scupper any plans for a reunion for good.

Sometimes it's good to be wrong. Welcome back, Fightstar!


To Sleep
Paint Your Target
Build An Army
Grand Unification Part 1
War Machine
We Apologise For Nothing
The English Way
Colours Bleed To Red
Tannhauser Gate
Sleep Well Tonight
Lost Like Tears In Rain
Palahniuk's Laughter

Speak Up
Hazy Eyes

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