All photos courtesy of Rachael Griffiths | Black Lotus Photography
The front end of the working week isn’t exactly renowned for bursts of energy from – well, anyone – but The Borderline finds itself at the centre of a whirlwind one such a Monday evening, with not one, or even two, but three notably stage-evacuating bands ready to make nice with their punters in a rather more personal fashion than is common – and in increasing degrees over the course of the night.
For starters, we love Zoax. We love Zoax enough for there to be some form of Battle Royale brewing amongst the staff for the right to review their soon to be released debut full-length – so their last-minute addition to this already exciting evening is an extra bonus joy.
Just as they did when we saw them at The Black Heart just a month ago, the band file quietly onto the stage. With just a couple of quick hand claps from frontman Adam Carroll, they explode into the first of a number of new tunes that have now found their way into the setlist. The band really throw themselves into their performance, providing a great introduction to a rather chaotic evening of entertainment.
Adam is soon off the stage and into the crowd, clearly at his most comfortable getting in people’s faces. Having acquired a hat from a punter, he tests the extent of his mic cable by venturing up the stairs towards the front door. That must have been a surprise for the bouncers at the top. With Adam out of the way, bassist Joe Copcutt makes the most of the extra stage space, throwing himself and his instrument around as much as possible.
The sideways configuration of the drum kit also lets us see just how ferociously Jonathan Rogers smacks the living shit out of his cymbals, more than matching the energy of his more mobile bandmates. Balancing the set well between new and older material, it’s obvious that there are a number of existing fans in the steadily growing crowd, with a knot of them forming in front of the stage. Those early birds are well rewarded with a tight and kinetic performance. A new song, potentially called “Devil Dance” carries a jagged and energetic chorus with the repeated refrain “Why so serious?” that together suggest some kind of Joker theme.
The set culminates with their minty fresh new single “The Bad Blood“, and they depart having pleased old fans, won over some new ones and stoked high our expectations for that album. Soon.
Despite Simon’s report on Belgians Raketkanon‘s recent visit to Camden’s Underworld with Shining and Caligula’s Horse, I find myself ill-prepared for the onslaught of low-end and jagged synths from the wild Gent four piece.
In what is clearly a theme for the evening, it’s hard to keep any of them locked in one spot for any length of time, and that includes drummer Pieter de Wilde, who more than once make forays into – and on top of – the enthusiastic crowd.
Equally, singer Pieter-Paul Devos, who aptly embodies the spirit of These Arms Are Snakes whirlwind Steve Snere – indeed, Raketkanon make a good go at both the sonic and energetic qualities of the defunct Seattleites – makes the heads and arms of the audience his own. It becomes apparent that he’s suffering a bit as a result of the likely hectic tour with the headliners, and as such the set is decidely short, but it’s cut short only after the four throw absolutely everything into their performance.
It’s worth noting that they’re a much more visceral prospect face-to-face (or foot-to-face, as the case may be) than their recorded output might suggest, so we highly advise you make their next local show a priority.
A sold out Borderline is a very busy room indeed. As HECK‘s set begins, I find myself wedged by the bar behind that awkwardly situated pillar, forced to watch the CCTV to get a full view of the stage – but any impeded view swiftly becomes moot, as Matt Reynolds lasts at most eight bars before jumping into the teeming crowd.
Fellow guitarist Johnny Hall follows soon after, and from then onward it requires constant vigilance to keep track of the pair. Some bands own the stages they play on; HECK commandeer the entire venue. Back in 2014, writing about their appearance at the Takedown Festival, I urged anyone reading to see the band as soon as possible, as it seemed to me they couldn’t maintain those levels of chaotic excitement for long.
Not for the first time, I was wrong. Even with tonight being the final show of a two week trail of destruction to support the release of their debut album Instructions, there’s no sign of them slowing down or letting up. Indeed, the only indication at all that they’re coming to the end of a tour are Johnny and Matt’s slightly-more-ragged-than-usual screaming.
For those who haven’t been, The Borderline has all manner of platforms, rails and a large number of pipes hanging from the ceiling – and between the pair, Matt and Johnny seem on a mission to plant their feet on all of them. At one point, both are on the bar, and the ceiling is left with a couple of headstock-shaped dings to record the occasion for posterity.
Having had a little while to properly digest Instructions, the songs of the set are more recognisable than they have been at previous shows – and it’s remarkable how well they stay together even when the band are spread out across the venue, and often either lying on the crowd, or completely upside down. A big chunk of the reason why they are able to retain this sense of cohesion lies in the rhythm section, and particularly in Paul Shelley’s thick and meaty bass tone, which propels the tracks and probably papers over a few of the cracks that are bound to appear when combining guitar playing and mountaineering.
There’s scant regard for physical safety or the preservation of their equipment, and one of Matt’s guitars is a casualty. While being carried aloft on one of his multiple and prolonged crowd surfing voyages, he also comes perilously close to pulling pipes loose from the ceiling – but somehow everything holds together and the space is found to open up a wall of death stretching from the stage right back to the sound desk. God only knows how we all managed that.
If there’s one song that the teeming throng are desperate to hear tonight, it’s “Powerboat Disaster“, and prior to its inevitable deployment, Matt drags his mic stand right to the back corner where we are sheltering our brittle bones. Whether you want to or not, you WILL get an up close and personal experience watching HECK, wherever you stand.
They close with Instructions‘ remarkably progressive three-parter “I. See The Old Lady Decently II. Buried Although III. Amongst Those Left Are You“, which despite being aggressive as fuck is a hefty sixteen minutes long. Stick that in your riff and smoke it. It’s a proper curtain-closer, never dragging and whilst it peaks and troughs to a final climactic push. A magnificent way to end the set, the tour, and probably their prospects of an invitation back to the venue.