The Cribs: Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – live review

Cribs NME AwardsThe Cribs
Shepherd’s Bush Empire
22nd Feb 2013

Last week The Cribs played an emotional final gig before heading off on a self imposed hiatus. Louder Than War were there to soak it all up.

A funereal air rumbles through the two thousand strong audience at the sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre tonight. A year after the release of the Cribs’ fifth record ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ the Cribs are readying a retrospective compilation ‘Payola’ amidst talk that tonight’s concert is going to be their last for time to come. While there’s little doubt that the Cribs will return in some way at some point, to their fiercely devoted audience tonight is a gig where every strum, shout and belch of feedback matters.

There’s an intensity to the applause that greets the Wakefield trio (and touring guitarist David Jones of Nine Black Alps) that seems at odds with their awkwardity and understatement in appearance. The haunting grunge chug of ‘Back to the Bolthole’ begins, a reflection on mortality somewhat apt at a gig defined by the ever present spectre of finality. As Ryan Jarman’s dulcet Yorkshire tones scream of coming “a long, long way from home”, it’s easy to be reminded of the “long, long” way the Cribs have come from their blissfully scratchy and lo-fi debut.

No longer is it an exaggeration to place the Cribs in the lineage of great, innovative British indie bands alongside post-punk pioneers such as Orange Juice, The Fall and The Wedding Present. Shades of Nirvana pulsate through tonight’s darker moments provided by recent singles ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ and ‘Glitters Like Gold’ – a marked return to the ethos of their formative years but with a swollen, claustrophobic quality. Though thankfully The Cribs aren’t the type to set much stall by awards, there must be something of a silent pride over recent accolades from NME (Outstanding Contribution to Music award 2013) and Q (Spirit of Independence award). Values and ideals are notions many bands gleefully pay lip service to but few hold firm in the face of temptation to take the easy money or turn a blind eye. The Cribs could have sold out – and not without huge success neither – but to be here five albums in without compromise of vision or value is a victory for those who shouldn’t, couldn’t and mustn’t be swept away by the avalanche of cash-chasing conformity prevalent in music.

The Cribs have always spat in the face of that most foul of rockist snobberies towards melody and the acute pop sensibilities of earlier tracks aired tonight such as ‘Martell’ and ‘Another Number’ highlight this. ‘Hey Scenesters!’ remains unmatched in its perfection as a 3 minute punk thrill soaked in venomous sarcasm and the reaction it evokes tonight is typically highly charged; circle pits rise and then burst back into the sea of sweaty, pogo-ing bodies and doomed crowd surfers.

This being the Cribs though, tonight’s set isn’t all high-octane guitars and it takes something special to air a six minute spoken word piece and a four part rock opera suite (think Buzzcocks performing ‘Golden Slumbers’), let alone turn these into profoundly powerful highlights of the night. As the end draws nigh and the final curtain is in sight, the reciprocation of affection between band and audience is startling and stark. Ryan Jarman’s medical records (if we were The Sun we could confirm this…) will probably tell the story of a man not likely to be dismayed by the ‘Crowd surfing will NOT be tolerated’ signs either side of the stage and as he catapults himself over bald, beefy security (engulfed in a red alert of panic) and into the appreciative crowd. This element of knowing chaos is heightened by the pantomime destruction of guitars and drum kits, all lapped up with customary roars of jubilance.

As the set ends, no mention is made of the elephant in the room – the band’s impending hiatus – but no mention is really made of anything at any point. Just as the onstage bond between the brothers Jarman is about the unsaid and a shared understanding, the same is true of the relationship between the band and the audience. A storming ‘City of Bugs’ ends the night, one of The Cribs least recognised examples of their sonic expansion and is probably their strongest achievement with Johnny Marr; lyrically an evocative collage of cross-hatched doors, Berlin walls and shattering climaxes.

As the last swells of feedback dissolve into the chants of appreciation and applause, the Cribs take their bows and quickly exit the stage with grace and elation. Alas, the only fitting end is to lift a maxim from the Cribs themselves, “It’s not the end, you pricks”.

All words by Fergal Kinney. You can read more from Fergal on LTW here.

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