Tuesday 1 June, Birkenhead Future Yard
Typically, with a live review I’d want to chart the nuances of the gig. I’d want to mention the atmosphere generated by the presence of the band or the ferocity of their songs in heady live rendition. But after being deprived of live music for so long, my first post lockdown gig experience was so much more special than that. Shame provided a fitting way to mark what was, for everyone in the audience, the first experience of live music in over a year.
The gig was not only an exciting performance for a band who are a mainstay of the emerging Brixton Windmill post-punk scene, but it was one that made me remember just how much I enjoy live music. Yet if it had not been for the socially distanced formatting, with slightly uncomfortable folding chairs and tiny desk-like tables for our pints, the gig would have perhaps been a forgettable and nauseating experience. Standing up and having to contend with a jostling crowd or some tall bastard blocking my view (ironically, I’m sure for many people I would fit that description) would feel jarring after the experience of lockdown. This gig felt like a very appropriate and even a civilised way for Shame to slowly get back into playing live before their tour properly starts and we lose all memory of Covid.
Such an arrangement felt like stark contrast in setting for a band who are so used to playing for swollen, barging, and sweaty crowds. It meant they were on display and were performing to us at a level which was obviously more intimate. This made the gig far more stirring. I was fixed to my seat, desperate to let my eyes and ears consume the entire gig and not to forget any of it. Every breast-beating, spasmodic moment of frontman Charlie Steen’s crazed performance and every one of bassist Josh Finerty’s jumps and kicks were on display.
Shame and Steen were a constant of effusive energy release who didn’t appear stifled or limited by the small stage
Really, it was Steen who made the gig. It was easy to stare in awe as he repeatedly crouched down on the stage, right in front of me at one point, to sing or point at us with his mic stand. Steen’s stage presence makes Shame truly stand out and, with his only instrument being his voice, he can seem far more iconic during live performances. Whilst the audience’s movements were limited to foot stomping and head nodding, Shame and Steen were a constant source of effusive energy who didn’t appear stifled or limited by the small stage despite their burgeoning sound.
Shame might be a band who pride themselves on gigs that are ‘heavy’ and ‘intense’ on the floor of the venue, but after seeing their Future Yard set, I have gained a new appreciation for both the dynamic of the band and also a breed of gig which will only be a short-lived rarity. For financial purposes alone, not to mention the ending of Covid regulations, socially distanced gigs are not going to be around for long. Of course, this made the experience of sitting in the front row, less than two metres away from Steen, and ordering merch and drinks through an app straight to my tiny table an immense novelty.
The gig itself was short and sweet, with no support acts and around 25 minutes of waiting before the band came on for a hour-long set. The band were also enjoying themselves. Steen told us how brave we were to be coming out to see them and how it was so important to support independent venues, but he didn’t talk too much. The commitment of Shame’s fans is an endearing thing, and in a room with only about fifty people the cheers and shouts for particular songs is a reminder that Shame is still a small band (although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made a long and arduous pilgrimage to get there).
It was the perfect din after a year of sanitised silence
This was one of the first occasions where Shame have been able to play songs from their latest album, Drunk Tank Pink. The opening three tracks from this album alone were made to be played without a break and Shame didn’t start things slowly, belting out ‘Alphabet’, ‘Nigel Hitter’, and ‘Born in Luton’ much to our delight. The content for the rest of the set was a heady mix of tracks from DTP and their debut album Songs of Praise. More so, their songs felt well-crafted for a live audience, even the socially distanced kind. ‘The Lick’, a track most notable for its bass build up and Steen’s brand of harsh spoken word storytelling, provided a perfect point of respite from which they could lurch back into faster tracks.
It was the perfect din after a year of sanitised silence. But it also made me realise that an abrupt return to live music after lockdown might not be the perfect antidote to a year of isolation. Maybe we could keep socially distanced gigs for a bit longer?
(Photo: Niall Hawkins)