Blood Red Shoes, Male Bonding

Alex Nelson 07/10/2010

Male Bonding have about a 35% success rate. Three times I have seen them now, meaning to or otherwise, and twice they have been appalling to the point where it has instilled great confidence in me and my own musical abilities (both times, I have to add, in the outdoor trappings of Offset Festivals '09 and '10). But once they were kind of bearable, performing in the relatively close quarters of Norwich's Arts Centre back in May, and once again I find the band with a roof over their heads, and it makes all the difference.

The vocals aren't lost behind swathes of reverb and blustery winds, revealing to the audience some of Male Bonding's actually catchy doo-wop refrains, and the simplistic guitar/bass/drums set-up sounds clear and punchy in the architectural bottle-neck that is London's Electric Ballroom. Drummer Robin Silas Christian goes hell for leather for the entire set, a sweet disposition from his apparent persona as a geeky, bespectacled techie during sound check. Let's get one thing straight, Male Bonding are not by any stretch of the imagination commendable tonight, it's just that when put against the other aforementioned performances, this one would stand out as a possible highlight for the band. Indeed, if you are an already established fan, then tonight's performance would have been one to get the blood pumping, but otherwise, Male Bonding's brand of super-light grunge riffs in a lo-fi package fails to hold my supposition throughout the duration of their 40-minute set.

Blood Red Shoes take to the stage to a ferocious roar from the now packed out Electric Ballroom, and the Brighton duo launch head-on into 'It's Getting Boring
By The Sea'
and stutteringly fabulous alarm call intro. It's second song 'Light It Up' that really drives the crowd to a pogo-ing frenzy, an incendiary power chord chorus besot on all sides by easily remembered 'heyeaheys!' and chanted vocals rising from the ashes of plodding verses and twanging middle eights. From then on in, the crowd show their appreciation for each song by bouncing on the spot ever more wildly, the intro of 'This Is Not For You' garnering strong support in the form of a break in the crowd which quickly dissolves into the rash madness of a circle pit when the song's powerfully crushing guitars chime in to compliment Laura-Mary Carter and Steve Ansell's tales of lovelorn abashment and sexual tensions.

Backlit through a haze of dry ice throughout, silhouetting the band almost uncomfortable menacingly as they tweet through their catchy 'woah-oah' vocals, Blood Red Shoes air the majority of their latest album, 2010's Fire Like This (including, a surprisingly rarely played 'One More Empty Chair', one of the stronger songs off that album) while also finding time to dip into some choice cuts from 2008's Box Of Secrets, and even breaking out even rarer b-side 'We Get Bored' for the encore.

The songs from the new album sound heavier than most when put up against the band's efforts from their debut, as they do on record. 'Keeping It Close' and its brash intro full of chugging guitars and crashing drums give way to a modestly picked guitar line, before building back to the monolith of a song it once was by way of a slight tempo change and a quick stomp on a distortion pedal; and it never really lets up from there. Even 'When We Wake', which is essentially the same four notes played over and over again as someone, somewhere, cranks on the gain dial slowly but surely, grows to an impressive wall of sound, driven by the passive aggression that fuels many of Blood Red Shoes songs. Latest single 'Heartsink' oddly benefits from the rare phenomenon of a band playing a song noticeably slower then how it is on record. The slightly decreased tempo makes the already chunky track sound ever heavier, and of course 120bpm is natural pogo tempo. Probably.

They close with, in this reviewer's opinion, a poor choice in the form of 'Colours Fade.' The weakest song off Fire Like This and one that almost broke my belief in the band when I first heard it many moons ago, it takes on an entirely different form in the live setting and deftly awards the band the 'loudest duo in rock' moniker they have been so desperately reaching for (and a phrase that gets bandied around all too much
when discussing any sort of band with a minimal set-up these days), swelling to an awesome, pulsating wall of noise, which collapses into the harsh drone of feedback and throbbing electrics as the band leave the stage, huge smiles slapped across their faces as they know they've just wowed the crowd at their biggest headline show to date.