Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
The self-help quote goes something along the lines of ‘Life is about the journey, not the destination.’ It’s been quite some trek for this evening’s headline act to this juncture.
Formed in 2014 Bridgend rockers Those Damn Crows have undertaken quite the expedition to reach where we arrive this evening.
It’s far from the final destination, that itself lies much, much further down the rock n’ roll highway, but it’s a pivotal moment that will be noted in the annals without any doubt. There’s much more in the tank but let’s savour this point in time.
This quintet has damn near enough sold-out their first ever headline arena show just 24 hours of punching an oh-so solid, and very sizeable, dent in the official UK Album charts. Topped by just Pink, landing her fourth chart-topping album, and Irish band Inhaler what lies ahead for the Crows is beyond the band’s wildest ever dreams.
From their humble beginnings to being lauded as amongst the brightest lights of the current UK rock scene this is a band that haven’t forgot their collective roots. Never losing their endearing, friendly personas of the ‘lads next door’, along with an inconsiderable amount of sheer, hard graft and the knack of penning a damn fine ear-worm or ten, have deservedly seen them rise through the ranks.
This evening, for the final date of their February tour, somewhere in the region of 3000 members from the fervid, loyal ranks of the ‘Crow Family’ have travelled from wide and far convening upon Swansea’s brand-new Arena. The city’s, quite literally, shining beacon of light seems the perfect place to celebrate the accolade of ‘Inhale / Exhale’ taking its number three slot.
It’s a far, far cry from our first Swansea-flavoured taste of the Crows across the city at Hangar 18. On what felt like the hottest day in history The Crows played a blinder in front of 50 or so hardy souls. Even back then their collective quality shone through. Tearing up stages at the likes of Giants of Rock and Steelhouse led to signing with the industrious Earache record label. The rest, as they say, is history!
Upon this tour, as with previous headline Welsh shows and UK tours, the Crows are championing their fellow countrymen and women of rock. Picking up the metaphorical baton from the likes of Florence Black, Scarlet Rebels and Cardinal Black are two choice cuts from the rich crop of this musically fecund region. Pontypridd’s incendiary punk-infused James and The Cold Gun alongside Neath’s dark-as-coal hard rocking Valhalla Awaits are the most recent of beneficiaries from this most welcome of strategies.
Well ahead of doors, bathed in the light of a giant Those Damn Crows logo projected from the arena’s exterior, a lengthy queue snakes off into the distance. A brisk, cutting evening wind combined with a less than desirable result on the pitch in Cardiff are not going to prove a deterrent. Stood there, in touching distance, one can sense a tangible feeling of quiet disbelief that this is actually happening. What was, for some time, the stuff of dreams is now an actual really; this is how far along the rock n’ roll highway Those Damn Crows have travelled.
Once inside the cavernous interior I’m not alone in being somewhat awestruck with the whole scale of this. Putting it into perspective the stage, itself, could comfortably fit quite a few of the venues that this Bridgend quintet have played in over the years! Who was it that muttered something about “Rock n’ roll’s dead?”
Turning the ignition and revving up the engine this evening’s opening act Valhalla Awaits forcibly take the Arena by the scruff of its neck grabbing attention in all corners. Gathering under blue lights guitarist Chris Green, out stage left, motions to the crowd as vocalist Andrew Hunt, on the eve of his birthday, screams an impassioned rallying “C’mon Swansea!” as they burst into their opening number, the brand new track and fearsome metaller, ‘Door Of No Return.’ Breaking the stockades, the thundering herd strides upon the Devil’s plains.
Dark as the coal for which the Welsh Valleys are famed and as hard as the Steel that comes forth from Llanwern and Port Talbot so ‘Dying Inside’ presses the accelerator firmly to the floor. Frontman Hunt, cutting a primetime Ian Gillan-esque figure with his long brown flowing over his shoulders, steps forth “How we doing Swansea? It’s good to be back in Wales!” before furthering “Let’s hear it for the Crows, number three in the charts boys!”
Igneous flows course through the veins of ‘Slave’ with a riotous Sabbath groove that stirs the very underworld as the venue approaches half full. Rammed to the hilt with the growling Gibsons of Green and his sidekick Rhys Carter this ambrosial track possesses far more oomph than last night’s widely felt earthquake. These lords of doom-laden undercurrents deal in great seismic forces.
Even an errant lighting rig will not deter. “Candles it is!” quips Hunt in mock-annoyance with the stage dimly lit. Aptly entitled, for the moment, the cannonade of ‘Black Waters’ completes a rich, deep trio from the ‘Condemned’ EP. Both hands outstretched, as if upon an invisible cross, Hunt watches as his colleagues juggernaut along. Hurtling into structurally damaging ‘Skin & Bone’ the sirens, inhabiting the inky depths, shipwreck the subterranean denizens.
Quickly passing over the outcome of a certain rugby match in the capital Hunt shines a light upon the bands first headline show over at Merthyr Tydfil’s Redhouse on April 1st before, as one, the band launch into ‘Inside The Sun’, as tenebrous as the bowels of the collieries, before winding up with the brooding heavyweight ‘Digging The Grave’ beckons worship at the metamorphic altar of hard rock. Hunt, both hands raised above his head, clearly moved by the experience, triumphantly roars “Swansea!” to salute the crowd.
I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the next act having been suitably impressed by them when our respective paths crossed for the first-time last year. Opening for Florence Black, at their hometown show in Merthyr Tydfil, James And The Cold Gun, lifted the roof with their berserker meld of indie-edged rock and punk.
Exploding uncontrollably out of Pontypridd, self-proclaimed as “South Wales’ loudest’, this is a band that straightforwardly does what it states upon the tin. With a Stooges swagger the growling punk fury of latest single ‘Chewing Glass’ navigates the Arena onto an unexpected course from the very off. Even with having opened for the Crows at the Chepstow Castle gig last summer the collective freneticism has taken more than a few by surprise from what I can see.
“How’s everyone doing? Good?” enquires frontman James Joseph, deftly sporting a dark pair of shades before dedicating the following track to everyone who wants to dance. ‘She Moves’, their debut single from 2019, tears up the floorboards spitting up nails as it goes. The low rumbling bass wraps itself about the spitting venomous guitar of James Bliss; “I can’t waste more time with you” declares a snarling Joseph. Surely the bastard child of Iggy Pop and Jarvis Cocker the latter is an enigmatic figure out stage left as 70s punk collides with 21st century indie.
A “love letter to volume” ‘Plug Me In’ is a garage-jamming monster borne out of frustration. Dedicating it to “Our boys in Valhalla Awaits” Joseph sagely notes “This is a fast one.” He’s not kidding! With anarchic angst aplenty low-slung guitars and resounding low-end delivery launches the whole package stratospherically. Johnny Rotten and Lemmy would approve I reckon.
As dark as the fictional streets of Gotham City ‘Cheating On The Sun’ is a meaty powerhouse with fuzzy distortion to die for within its grunge sentiment wholly dunked in a vat rim-full of punk ethos. Like Valhalla Awaits, before, Joseph enthusiastically congratulates the headline act upon their achievement of the previous day, “Scream for Those Damn Crows! Number three album for a band from Bridgend! It helps us all out.” It certainly does, the Crows are seemingly keen and constant in keeping the doors they have opened for their peers from South Wales.
With an alloying of Elastica and Iggy Pop ‘It’s Mutual’ couples together with the punked up kinetics of ‘Long Way Home’ sees the crowd engaging; responding well as the venue reaches roughly 75% capacity. “The whole set goes out to my nan who couldn’t be here.” Joseph announces. It’s been that sort of night thus far.
Leaves ethereally blow in an autumnal fashion, a rib cage darkens on one side. On the other flowers bloom as plants entwine. Five familiar silhouettes are backlit behind the stage screen, an equal number of words emanate one after the other. “We. Are. Those. Damn. Crows!” So here we are, the final show of the ‘Inhale/Exhale’ release tour, a near sell-out in the Crows’ local arena.
With a single riff and a crescendo of drums Those Damn Crows hit Swansea at full pelt with set-opener ‘Fill The Void.’ Local heroes done well, really well!! The arena, now packed, goes wild “I’m about to lose my mind” hastens all-action vocalist Shane Greenhall. He’s not the only one by judging the levels of fervour on display!
I pinch myself and cast my mind back to the first time encountering this Welsh ten-legged beast in action. January 2017 and The Introducing Stage at Minehead’s Giants Of Rock festival had just been upended by a typically rumbustious Crows set. With a couple of genuinely slick videos online and a self-released ‘Murder And The Motive’ under their belts there seemed an assuredness about them. However, whilst they knew their undoubted knack of writing a bloody good hooky earworm it was evident this was a band who weren’t sure of how far this could go.
If ever affirmation of peoples’ belief in these five Welshmen was required, then herein the walls of Swansea’s Arena is all the evidence one could ever require. The rip-roaring start and the full-on artillery of the set-opener lays waste as TDC reach even the far-flung parts of the Arena with consummate ease.
With a grungy underpinning the stomping ‘Wake Up (Sleepwalker)’ continues the live introduction to the brand-new album. The ‘Crow Family’ are on point, singing fervently. Shane, in trademark manner greets the ranks “Wassup Swansea?” continuing “Two words ….. HOLY SHIT!” Sincere the frontman enthuses in expressing the band’s gratitude. “Those Damn Crows have the best motherfucking fans!”
A cathedral-airs intro tape heralds in ‘Sick Of Me’, rousing and shimmering in its glory. No punch or passion is lost in the live translation. Naturally there’s no fuss, this is a well-oiled machine, as the buzz-sawing ‘Kingdom Of Dust’, with its highly resonant words, elevates levels even further. Left hand upon high singing “Cause I confess I’m about to fuck things up” Shane smiles broadly. Looking around things will never be the same again. This is a band on a rapid, steep upwards trajectory; much will, naturally, change. That’s the nature of the beast. There’s a new exciting chapter about to be written.
Guitarist Ian ‘Shiner’ Thomas, the very essence of the Valleys, brings in ‘Sin On Skin.’ Dubbed by Shane “The coolest Crow” Shiner retains a quiet genuine persona whilst all about is fire cracking. Vocalist and ‘Coolest Crow’ face off whilst on-fire animated bassist Lloyd Wood is held in a frenetic Brownian motion crazing about the wide expanses of the stage.
In between feathering fanned spotlights Shane, alone, takes the keys for ‘Blink Of An Eye’ Right on cue – “As the music starts to play” – the rest of the band burst back into life with a full-blooded roar. The prophecies of this being an arena-ready anthem have been thoroughly confirmed. The entwining guitars of Shiner and his six-string compatriot Dave Winchurch, a rare moment of lead amongst the defining power, punctuates with raw, bleeding emotion.
Ronnie Huxford, aloft on his riser, thunders his drums as if his very existence, along with his band afront, depends upon it. Shane’s keys coruscate as fireflies dancing upon the evening breeze. Shimmering kaleidoscopically. Bringing in ‘Who Did It’ Dave puts a finger to his lips to quieten things down a touch before rousingly rallying the crowd back into action. The quickfire lyrics of ‘Send The Reaper’ coupled with a searing despatch turn up the thermostat that bit further, boiling point nears.
Dipping into their debut album for only the second, and as it would transpire final time, Ronnie hits a most familiar of drumbeats. Questioningly Shane wonders “Swansea do you love rock n’ roll?” The once-standard set closer ‘Rock n’ Roll Ain’t Dead’ now dovetails most neatly into the middle of the set. Casting an eye about it’s pretty damn apparent that rock is still selling! As the crowd, unified, sing “Who said rock n’ roll is dead” Shane disappears. Renown for his ‘wanders’ he reappears up on the balcony before heading to the main seated area high at the rear of the Arena.
Whilst their ‘errant’ vocalist is slipping unseen back towards the stage the four remaining Crows gather together for ‘Go Get It’ with Dave taking the spotlight for a brief ‘solo.’ As the set winds towards the inevitable close Shane, once again, thanks the ‘Crow Family’ for their support in getting the band to yesterday’s chart position offering “A few new songs from the new album.”
In fact the last five tracks of an highly impressive and well-polished set are all craned in from the behemothic ‘Inhale/Exhale’ with the roaring anthem ‘Takedown’ converting the hardest of rock to the finest of dust with an industrious expulsion of energy.
The hard freeway driving of ‘Man On Fire’ follows with a delicious blend of light and dark shades lovingly whisked together.
The tempo is dropped for the atmospheric tonnage of ‘Waiting On Me’; with Shiner, silhouetted in the extensive dry ice, producing an almost Wayne Hussey-like shadowy figure. The stage darkens as the final notes reverberate about as the band regroup for the finale with the entire Arena chanting for more.
Not content with keys and brief foray behind the kit with Ronnie Shane picks up a black Telecaster for ‘This Time I’m Ready’ before the emotionally charged ‘See You Again’ most ably proves it’s worthiness to fill the set-closing slot. It’s a great way to end the night as Shane bids farewell “We’ll see you soon at Steelhouse. Let’s fucking rock the mountain!”
Wishing to hear the new material for the very first time in the live environment I’ve somehow managed to ‘avoid’ all bar a couple of the singles released in support of the new album. Was it worth it? Damn right it was! All expectations have been well and truly exceeded by this and it’s with a smile we look forward to ascending that mountain come the end of July.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM