Creeper, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, gig review: Horror punk revivalists captivate with a jaw-dropping spectacle

Southampton’s horror goth punks bring their ‘Theatre of Fear’ spectacular to London’s historic music hall

Remfry Dedman
Thursday 14 December 2017 14:35
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Creeper performing at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire
Creeper performing at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire

Creeper have made an extraordinary progression in 2017 and continue to garner a fervent, unwaveringly dedicated fanbase. The sheer level of excitement from their crowd this evening is a key component of what makes tonight evening so special. Their enthusiasm is unparalleled, with a mosh pit and mass venue sing-a-long erupting 10 minutes before the band even come onstage as My Chemical Romance’s ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ blasts over the PA. The emo New Jersey punks are a fitting comparison with Creeper; love it or loathe it, few bands have inspired the same dedication or dared to display the same level of theatrics of My Chemical Romance, and with that band on hiatus since 2013, the rock landscape is rife for Creeper to come in and take up the mantle.

But it’s not just Creeper we have to look forward to this evening. The Southampton horror punks have a fantastic triumvirate of some of the greatest, melodic rock acts of the modern era as support. First up is Watford’s Nervus, who come on to little fanfare but their ebullient, infectious brand of emotionally charged rock soon invigorates an initially reluctant crowd. And no wonder; these bitter, virulent tales of regret and apprehension are wrapped up in joyful melodies which creep up on you and pop into your brain several days hence.

New songs such as ‘Nobody Loses’ ‘It Follows’ and ‘Sick Sad World’ prove we have much to look forward to once the band’s sophomore album, ‘Everything Dies’, lands early next year whilst ‘Medicine’ points towards a grungier, idiosyncratic Pixies dynamic that the band would do well to explore even further on future material. But old favourites such as ‘Oh Joy’, ‘Skipping Needle’ and ‘Bones’ (this evening dedicated to the LGBTQ community) are effervescent slices of jubilant melodic rock that could easily make their way onto the listening devices of many Creeper fans in the audience this evening.

Special mention must go to Keyboardist Paul Ettienne, who’s special brand of nouveau-wave Dad-dancing-at-a-wedding kitsch is put front and centre and provides a surreal visual accompaniment to proceedings. Some might find it distracts from the songs, but it’s undoubtedly visually arresting.

Atlanta’s Microwave write excellently realised, dreamy, personal, emotive alt-rock. It’s masterfully crafted with a far less cynical angle than some of the band’s contemporaries. A wistful vibe permeates the likes of ‘Lighterless’ and ‘Vomit’, which brings the quartet’s set to a close with a cataclysmal wall of screaming and power chords.

Songs like ‘Stovall’ are adept slices of personal exorcism which recalls the 90s emo template laid down by Mineral, American Football and Sunny Day Real Estate. There’s not a whole lot of charisma shared between the four men on-stage and they don’t quite have the songs to make up for that fact just yet, but one gets the sense that it won’t be long before they do.

New Jersey’s Can’t Swim begin with excellent punk rock bluster and inject some vigour and energy into proceedings. The backing ‘heys’ on ‘What’s Your Big Idea?’ evoke The Ramones but there’s much more to Can’t Swim’s songs than the leather jacketed three chord wonders, evidenced by the three guitarists needed to fully recreate their sound. It’s a notoriously difficult mix to get right and there are times when the New Jersey mob sound a little muddy, but it’s more than made up for with songs such as the excellent ‘$50,000’and ‘All the Moves We Make are in the Dark’.

There’s a playful quality to the quintet’s bluster, as evidenced by the brief snippet of ‘Dreams of Imagination’ that they play from the 1971 film version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When they’re not re-creating movie soundtracks, Can't Swim pull from a fairly even spread between EP Death Deserves a Name and their excellent debut full-length Fail You Again.

Can’t Swim have barely been a band two years, but already they’re showing more promise than the majority of their contemporaries. They have an incredible energy that lifts their songwriting above their peers and are surely set to return to UK shores and play to their own headline crowds hopefully sooner rather than later.

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Since day one, Creeper have cultivated a strong sense of the theatrical, both musically and in their presentation. It’s not entirely surprising to see this tour promoted as ‘The Theatre of Fear’, the ‘theatre’ part emerging from a short 7-minute introductory play, with actors and effects that ties in to the intricate lore that began with ‘The Callous Heart’ EP and has continued through to this year’s debut album ‘Eternity In Your Arms’. Protagonists from the mythology appear on-stage and deliver suitably kitsch 50s b-movie dialogue which vividly evokes the themed theatre shows that are peppered around Disneyworld; a faux power cut kills the lights, torches are shone directly into our faces and a plume of smoke is skilfully used to create the illusion of our protagonist, James Scythe’s, disappearance.

It’s a pretty startling introduction to Creeper’s largest London headline show to date and one almost forgets we’re attending a punk rock show until the band burst onstage and erupt into a frenzied rendition of ‘Black Rain’. It’s difficult to remember the last time that theatre and punk rock were linked so inextricably well and it’s clear that the band have spent long sleepless nights agonising over the finer details of this production. Even if you find the theatrics a mere distraction, it’s impressive that a band of Creeper’s size are even attempting to put on such a striking and ambitious show.

Creeper's stage show at Shepherd's Bush Empire

All this would be for naught however if the band didn’t have any decent songs. Thankfully, over 3 EPs and one full-length album, they’ve cultivated some absolute, world-class belters. Anarcho goth punk rock bluster serves as the band’s bread and butter and is proficiently executed with gusto and relish. Keeping track of individual members of Creeper during ragers such as ‘Poison Pens’, ‘Room 309’ or the utterly terrific ‘Valentine’ is a Herculean task. So agile and effervescent are frontman Will Gould, bassist Sean Scott and guitarist Ian Miles that keeping an eye on just one of them is likely to cause severe neck cramps. Theirs is a bold, exhilarating energy that doesn’t dissipate once during the 17-song set.

But it is when the band step out from the safety net of their comfort zone that one really begins to understand the devotion Creeper inspire. ‘Crickets’ is a beautiful highlight, essentially a country & western ballad that could have convincingly been written in Nashville where keyboard player Hannah Greenwood takes over on lead vocals and sings a heart-breaking lament to lost love. She’s a captivating performer, reminiscent of a younger Sheryl Crow, and she wonderfully evokes the bitter resentments of the song’s narrator with style and ease. ‘Black Mass’ takes a shortcut through some ornate Meatloaf-style shenanigans, hinting at a much more diverse draw of influences than their contemporaries whilst ‘I Choose To Live’ is a reassuring and emboldening anthem that provokes a spine-tingling, awe-inspiring sing-a-long, the memory of which will remain in attendees minds for many years to come.

Creeper's Will Gould, a consummate showman

Gould is a consummate show man, full of energy, drenched in sweat and barely pausing for breath. He has the crowd eating out of his hands through the entire evening. The set concludes with ‘Misery’, a bonafide modern rock classic that has become the band’s signature song and will likely remain so for their entire career. A beautifully crafted, tender ballad that builds to a rousing, anthemic coda, the fact that it has not yet been picked up and embraced by the mainstream is criminal. Creeper’s ambition is huge and should be applauded. If they can do this at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, imagine what they could do at Brixton Academy or Wembley Arena or even The O2. Given the dedication and devotion of their fans, it’s not necessarily an unlikely scenario.

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