Fat White Family & Black Country New Road Live In London

Veteran vandals & fresh faced young team both impress on the big stage with extra support from Pregoblin. Cal Cashin reports. Gallery of photographs by Valerio Berdini

All photographs in gallery courtesy of Valerio Berdini

The Fat White Family’s first two albums have cast a spectre over London’s music scene like no other; the last five years have seen the band’s squalorly grotabilly become as influential as any music before or since. Indeed, anywhere with an SE postcode it’s hard to get from front door to corner shop for a pint of milk without encountering a group of four or five youths with guitars that have taken the Fat Whites’ mongrel Bongwater/Fall/Gun Club sound as absolute gospel. It is Sheffield that shaped the band’s third record, but it is London that The Fat Whites have the key to.

The Fat White Family’s infamous rise as London’s, and indeed the country’s, premium live rock group comes primarily from their raucous, sweaty and intimate live shows – stormings of inner city pubs and small provincial venues nationwide. Tonight is an altogether different proposition, however, as the group set up shop at Kentish Town forum for the grand finale of their Serfs Up! tour. Although tonight is far from the band’s first excursion into a big space, it’s the first opportunity they’ve had to showcase the tetchy, hibernal material from the new record to the band’s hometown audience.

Alas, the headliners are phenomenal but talk of their set has to wait; before them on the bill are two of the best London groups spawned in the wake of the Fat Whites. Pregoblin, fronted by Alex Sebley, longtime affiliate of Lias Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski, they work a bastard acid groove every bit as psychedelic as the band’s near-namesake to an increasingly full Forum.

But it is Black Country, New Road whose support slot catches the eye the most. The seven-piece are utterly spellbinding and showstopping in every respect; they meander on stage, in some discomfort, with an aesthetic that falls halfway between Village Of The Damned and the Famous Five.

Black Country, New Road bustle through five or six highly charged numbers that marry the virtuosity of their amazing sax/violin section, razor-tight drum-fills, and the Slint-via-Sabbath riffing of frontman Isaac Wood – they make one hell of a racket. Supplementary to this are Wood’s caustic and brazen cut-up lyrics; “a gross misunderstanding of my influences,” he cries: “my bare proportions untensed and untowelled.” It’s safe to say that few support bands, let alone those with just one single out, could leave a lasting impression so effectively.

But tonight belongs to the Fat White Family.

For over the past six or seven years, the group have played all manner of music halls, taverns, record shops and pubs-with-indoor-smoking-areas across the city, but it is tonight that the group are at their most complete. Lias Saoudi cuts a distinctive figure; topless, never stood up straight, and a head completely shaved bar the remaining third of a mullet on the back of his head. ‘When I Leave’ is among the more unassuming, subtle tracks on new album Serfs Up!, but when the group open their set with it, it takes on a fresh sense of grandeur. The band have only gotten stranger the longer they’ve been working on new material, but from the very first drum machine clack the band’s sound is worthy of such a large, grand setting.

A maniacal version of ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’ and the testosterone swagger of ‘I Am Mark E Smith’ both see Saoudi come alive, dancing and prancing like The Man From Another Place on fast forward. Throughout, he’s a man possessed, he radiates this specific Byronic, reptilian energy making it impossible to take your eyes off his quaking figure long enough to count the rest of the members.

It is these moments of garage rock freakout that perhaps granted the Fat Whites their infamy in the first place, but it is the deviations from this that make the band’s performance special. They turn ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ into something half cosmic waltz, half football terrace chant, before whistling through the cello-led ‘Oh Sebastian’ with grace and a delicateness that you simply would not associate with this band. A cracking version of ‘Hits Hits Hits’ recalls the sparkle of Phil Spector’s Ramones collaborations, whilst the disparate sax tones of ‘Bobby’s Boyfriend’ echo around the old North London theatre atop the song’s ritualistic chorus.

Whilst broadening their palate innumerably, The Fat Whites’ greatest strength might just be that their performances never struggle to maintain that cutting edge. A closing duo of ‘Tastes Good With The Money’ and ‘Bomb Disneyland’ hit hard, a Smoking Joe one-two, before the band make a swift exit. And just like that, they leave a whole audience and the band’s own rambling, long-time American compere Pat Lyons trembling in their wake.

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