It’s not often that I venture up to the rather cavernous box that is the Electric Ballroom. But back in March, the opportunity to spend Sunday evening in the company of Napalm Death and Dropdead proved too tempting an opportunity to resist.
Rhode Island’s finest had just finished their set (more on that perhaps in future weeks) and Napalm Death’s road crew were busily rushing about the stage in preparation for their slot. As all the usual preliminaries were undertaken, a chair and a footstool were placed in splendid isolation, front and centre of the stage. Not a prop that I recalled ever having featured prominently in any previous Napalm Death show.
All was to become clear when the band came on stage, Barney Greenway with crutches and a leg in cast, hobbling over to take his seat, like a cheery Brummie Val Doonican. He had broken his ankle while being more energetic than, perhaps, he should have been in Munich a week earlier and was having to complete the rest of the tour from the comfort of a chair. Every credit to him, he didn’t allow his lack of mobility to compromise a typically ferocious show, despite it no doubt being a very distinct test of endurance. You try roaring ‘Suffer The Children’ from a seated position – it is no mean feat.
This was one of a spate of mishaps that seemed to impact gigs to varying degrees throughout March and April. A few days prior, the Cold Brats hadn’t quite fired to full effect supporting Gel at the New Cross Inn due to a malfunctioning vocal reverb. Meanwhile at New River Studios, Punitive Damage broke their snare drum midway through a scorching set (thankfully Layback came to the rescue with a spare). Whereas Instructor went one better a week later, breaking their lead guitar strings during the first song, and their snare in the second! However, composure was maintained, and the Belgians were soon into their bruising stride.
This run of misfortune got me to thinking about instances of where I have seen a band triumph in the face of technical adversity. And there was a clear winner – Narrows at The Underworld back in 2010. It had been a performance of punishing brutality, with vocalist Dave Verellen a monstrous presence as guitarists Jodie Cox and Ryan Frederiksen unleashed an infectiously searing sonic assault.
It came to the set closer, ‘Life Vests Float, Kids Don’t’, a perfect track to lay waste to an already reeling crowd. Rob Moran’s thundering bass and Verellen’s guttural vocals roared the song into life, but as Sam Stothers’ drums and the guitars crashed in, one of the lead guitars cut out. Technical finessing followed and the band fired up again, but this time both guitars cut out. What should have been a pulverising finale was threatening to finish as a damp squib.
Vocalist and rhythm section exchanged looks and a decision was taken – who, as it turns out, really needs guitars? Not Narrows, not in that specific moment anyway. The gig was brought to an incredible conclusion, a song stripped bare to it is core essentials and delivered with absolute crushing intensity.