Upon the arrival of The Stems onstage, I note the paisley shirts worn by front man Dom Mariani, current guitar sideman Even’s Ash Naylor and drummer Dave Shaw and think that perhaps John Shuttleworth on bass didn’t get the band memo. Within the opening salvo of She Sees Everything, Just Ain’t Enough and Move Me, there is more than just a physical representation of their influences on their sleeves and their performance comes through with the goods musically. Dom has the perfect vehicle for his extensive soloing in amongst core of the songs backed by Dave’s meaty drums. Dom tells us, “we’re gonna slow it down a bit” and they play For Always.
Jumping To Conclusions is a song recently reinstated in the set, having not been played since their heyday in the 80s and this is followed by a cover of the Byrds I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better with Ash taking on lead vocals. A Bo Diddley beat leads into Mr Misery, during which Dom commands the stage. Get To Know Me is played from their second album of ten years ago, released twenty years after the first, showing they haven’t lost their potency in the intervening up until now, and with Surround Me you get lost their set, forgetting that they are playing the support tonight. They go all Doors (and this is not the only time this happens tonight with a thematic reprise in the later headline set) as a lead in to At First Sight, one of the most perfect pop songs ever written and Dom’s vocals change to become less gruff and in a higher pitch. It would have been somewhat of a cliché to end there, although no one would have complained, but they continue to finish with Make You Mine.
For the “Birdmen” assembled on stage tonight, excepting latter day members Dave Kettley on guitar and Nik Rieth on drums, there’s not a grey hair not in sight. Rob Younger may now look like your grandpa but he certainly hasn’t lost his voice (well, this early in the set anyway). After the thematically fitting first song We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today), Rob points out a rowdy member of the audience and says, “I can see you’re gonna be trouble right away”.
In terms of uniform, as a contrast to the plain shirts worn by the others on stage, Denis Tek’s ersatz floral print stands out while on drums Nik’s red shirt aided in him nearly disappearing into the dark room red stage lighting and black and red of the hanging banner backdrop of the iconic Radio Birdman logo.
There are a series of short and fast songs performed early on before the stormy weather of the appropriately titled of Descent Into The Maelstrom, closely followed by the moody, lyrically and musically Doors-like Man With Golden Helmet (think Riders On The Storm) during which Pip Hoyle’s piano solos turning heads to the left. This song is a contrast to the shorter full-on assaults of the other songs, although Rob does howl out during the ending of the song. Throughout the set, Rob has been dancing unpretentiously like Iggy Pop and it comes to mind that he’s like Nick Cave if Nick Cave was your grandpa.
The rapid sonic assault resumes with Rob removing his jacket and becoming progressively more wild especially during Murder City Nights, spurring on the audience. A gothic organ intro precedes the bass and drum heavy Hand of Law which includes a slight segue into surf song Pipeline before Denis and Dave roar their backing vocals during Anglo Girl Desire showing there’s no backing down as the set goes on. The only real pause is a moment of technical downtime prior to Aloha Steve & Danno and following this the audience go wild for New Race before then band walk off stage.
When they return to encore, Rob comments, “Came back to see if you were still here. Couldn’t hear anything back there”. The first song played is Search and Destroy by Iggy and the Stooges who Rob has been channelling to an extent during the previous hour (and past 45 years), appearing to lose his voice as he screams hoarsely in the final moments. The next song is Blue Oyster Cult’s Dominance And Submission, and then the 13th Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me. Breathlessly, Denis introduces their final song, a cover of the MC5 with, “And now… and now… it’s time to… Kick Out The Jams” bringing this night to a close with a four song encore of covers, a potential closing tribute to their forebears.
Live Review by Jason Leigh