REVIEW Catfish and the Bottlemen at the Brixton Academy
November 10, 2015
Since the release of their debut album, Balcony, which has now gone gold, in 2014, Catfish and the Bottlemen have steadily developed an army of dedicated fans and are currently in the midst of their biggest UK tour to date.
On Friday they played the first of two nights at Brixton Academy to a sold-out crowd of 5,000. Fans arrived early and from the off you could feel the excitement and anticipation building for the bands entrance. The crowd were warmed up with a clever pre-show playlist which left everyone united in song to the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and other classic indie rock.
The lights dropped, followed by a lengthy silence, chants of ‘Woop, there it is!’ rung out and the band, dressed all in black and channeling ‘rock and roll’, walked on to the end chords of The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’. This set the tone for what was to come and Catfish’s notoriously raucous crowd absolutely loved it. Although I’m sure they would have loved anything Van McCann had done–they were at his disposal.
The set kick started with ‘Rango’ and the roof was raised. The next thirty minutes were filled with instantly recognisable singles from Balcony. Songs like ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Cocoon’ set the place on fire with an energy few bands can muster. These were songs written to be screamed back by crowds at the top of their lungs–and that they were. Guitar solos flew out and hit tracks were performed with a gritty honesty. There was no pretence, it was all about the music.
Beers were thrown, arms raised throughout and fans barely took their eyes off Van–he commanded their attention and the stage. At several points throughout the set, at one stage mid-verse, he paused and stepped back to take in what was happening, shaking his head in a muse of disbelief and delight declaring, ‘this is class’.
After a rousing performance of ‘Homesick’ the band exited the stage to leave Van illuminated in a spotlight with just his acoustic guitar. We all knew what was coming and he launched into a raw and gritty solo rendition of ‘Hourglass’. It was one of those magic moments when he stepped back and the crowd finished the song for him.
Next the band debuted their new track ‘7’. Its crunchy guitars and pounding drums give it an anthemic feel and it feels slower in tempo than the hit songs from Balcony. With the swagger of Oasis in places and a real bite to the vocal it symbolises a clear progression from the first record without completely ripping up the rule-book for the classic Catfish sound. Catfish returned to their roots and the show was brought to an end with ‘Tyrants’ and chaos erupted. It was clear that the crowd, united in song and riotous response, could have done it all over again.
The band are so laid back, giving the impression that they stumble on and a show like that ‘just happens’ effortlessly, but I have a feeling the whole performance is carefully orchestrated. Everything is meticulously planned from the pre-show playlist, relatable lyrics, and hooky choruses to the impressive lighting–and it works. Catfish have proved that they aren’t just a band for teenagers and their fan base covers a wide demographic–from blokes in their mid-thirties arm in arm to excitable teenagers crushing each other against the barriers.
With their new album set to be released next year, Catfish looked and sounded as if they were ready for arenas and stadiums–places that if they continue on this trajectory, they will easily fill with their invested fans.