The Cribs, Kentish Town Forum, London
Northern souls win more hearts
When you bring together one of the finest Mancunian guitarists of his generation with a band of raucous Wakefield new-wave rockers labouring for the last five years under the tag of the great hope of the British guitar band the results are bound to be impressive. What no one can have realised, though, is quite how well the combination works.
Even with the addition, last year, of Smiths maestro Johnny Marr on guitar, there is nothing coy about the Cribs. From eschewing the tradition of encores to their uncompromising DIY style of playing and recording, they ooze a charming authenticity, despite being, as lead singer and guitarist Ryan Jarman concedes at one point during the evening, "not a radio band". In trying to describe their live performances it would be painfully easy to lapse into Northern cliché, with phrases like gritty, no-nonsense, down-to-earth all embarrassingly appropriate. In truth, though, swathes of tonight's show lift them above such faint praise. The projected voiceover of Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo on "Be Safe", for example, or the overwhelming enthusiasm with which they are encouraged by an audience consisting of fans both cheery and impassioned.
Having never seemed so far from his beginnings as the man who combined new-wave miserablism with surf guitar in the Smiths, Johnny Marr's screaming Fender Jaguar crashes into Ryan Jarman's Epiphone with all the ferocity of a modern-day instrumental War of the Roses – but the illusion of combat is precisely that, and over the evening their musical concord is exactly as Marr recently described the duo's approach to instrumentation – a "twin-guitar attack". Their transpennine special relationship is reiterated when, during "Emasculate Me", Marr and Jarman play their guitars back-to-back in a rare moment of rock pomposity.
"Do we have any old-school Cribs fans here?" Jarman asks, to chants of adulation from the audience, before launching into "We can no longer cheat you" from 2005's "The New Fellas". Though their older material sits comfortably with recent work like "Ignore the Ignorant" (the title track from their well-received most recent album), Marr seems at some points underutilised, although it is perhaps more of a reflection on how impressive he's been over the course of the gig than on the lack of new instrumentation for songs written when the band were still a three-piece.
Visibly relaxed onstage, Marr has commented on the "refreshing lack of neurosis" among his new bandmates, who are all brothers. Perhaps the element of the Cribs' songwriting that aids them most live is their ability to compose songs with vocals so firmly in the middle of the male register that the audience of thousands has no trouble contributing to the performance. Their punchy choruses turned into a swooning singalong, the venue reverberates with the melodic alienation of a pitch-perfect indie performance.
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