You’ll should already have read here and possibly elsewhere about the sharp edged greatness of Interrobang‽‘s self titled debut album. It’s intelligent, dynamic and refreshing, a bracing slap in the face of cosy nostalgia. It’s better, quite frankly, than it has any business being and the glowing reviews have flowed in as a result. So, here they come marching relentlessly about the country playing it live, embracing adventure in their comfortable shoes. Are you ready people?
Dunstan Bruce enters from the back of the room yelling through a megaphone about being ‘Taciturn’, the others starting up as he reaches the stage. If you were looking for one word to skewer the sort of gruff northern masculinity his songs set out to address then taciturn would probably be it. They’ve a song called ‘Curmudgeon’ too and some rather stylish shirts emblazoned with it. They do not mess about. Road tested and honed their songs have no fat on them, they’re short and punchy, packed with twists and turns, Dunstan’s literary meditations suddenly bursting into infectious terrace chant choruses at the drop of a bon mot. Griff’s guitar is angular and full of layered textures. He’s using looping pedals to play overlapping parts but instead of filling up the space and solo-ing over the top he adds touches of light and shade allowing the vocals space and bringing a dynamic crunch when needed. He does this in such an understated way you could miss just how smart it is. There are no solos at all, even where you might look for them, he might be the most ego-less guitarist I’ve ever seen. A restrained straight man to Dunstan’s effusive, gesticulating declamations. They’re a perfect double act.
The set sticks close to the running order of the album but inevitably the songs come out rawer and rougher. They’re a great live band. ‘Mad As Hell’ opens with the famous speech from Network and if his voice is maybe showing the strain of the tour a touch Dunstan still gets out in the crowd yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” during the breakdown. Maybe he really never will calm down. He also does the moving opening verse of ‘Do You Remember?’ solo before they play it to get the message over. It’s consideration of his father’s death and their troubled relationship, like so many of these songs it’s personal but resonant.
Centrala is a great multi purpose space, a cafe bar that puts on art and films, talks, club nights and workshops as well as bands. It’s pretty new as well, it’s not the dingy back room of a pub but a clean industrial unit transformed into modern culture’s blank white box. The audience, dressed in worn black spattered with punk rock slogans and logos, seem to slightly levitate in the space. The band are dressed in smart suits. Is this performance art? Is it theatre? Is this still punk rock? Between declarations of intent Dunstan asks himself a lot of questions in the songs and asks us to do the same. To think and talk about stuff not usually addressed in the permanent adolescence of rock ‘n’ roll. Punk rock is in it’s forties now. Interrobang‽ seem to have found a way for it to grow up simply by asking the question of how head on.
The content shouldn’t obscure just how good a live act they are though, the final three songs are a scorching march to the finish. ‘Billingham’, a hometown reckoning, is fierce – “This is a love song to Billingham, God I hate you, I HATE YOU” Virtual band mission statement of ‘Breathe’ asks the questions “Will I still be hungry? Will I still be angry? And will I still have the energy?” On the evidence of tonight the answer is a table thumping yes. By the end he’s waving a placard bearing its closing motivational chant “Unrest is progress, contentment death”. How’s that for a five word message? Finally, he panics once more about disappearing into faded old age and comfy nostalgia on ‘Am I Invisible Yet?’ Not nearly, and if word of mouth does the work it should for this album they’ll be getting a lot more visible.