Live Music Review: Cancer Bats (+ Mitzi’s Revenge, Turbogeist and Shock Horror)
Venue: Fibbers, York, UK
Date: Saturday 8th December, 2012
I think, as I write this, I’ve decided a few things. First, clubs are the best place to see bands. The atmosphere and proximity are unmatchable by any other type of venue. Second, punk rock acts are brilliant live thanks to their vivacity and how they interact with their crowd. And, finally, Cancer Bats are one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen.
Fibbers, in York, is one of those bars that runs underground. It’s dark, dingy and you’re crushed up against everyone. In other words, it’s perfect for a lively gig. I arrived about 5 minutes after the doors opened to a pretty lengthy queue in the freezing cold. Thankfully, the guys at the box office were rather efficient and ushered us through the doors nice and quickly. As I walked in, the merch stands were already swarming with activity and a crowd were hanging lazily around the bar getting drinks and half-watching the first support band, Shock Horror, get ready to begin.
Shock Horror are a Huddersfield-based band playing old-school punk rock in the style of the Sex Pistols, or the countless other punk bands who cropped up during the 80s in Britain both musically and in dress and attitude. They cite influences including Black Flag and Green Day, and although their sound is different, they exude the same energy in their performance. The band were clearly enthusiastic at getting to support an act as big as Cancer Bats and they took the opportunity to aggressively advertise themselves between songs in an attempt to build a name for themselves. Personally, I thought their opening was weak, suffering from a ‘wall-of-sound’ problem with no real definition between instruments and some slightly off-beat drumming but they rallied magnificently and ended up putting on a wonderful, if criminally brief, show. India Mycock provided a barrage of rather impressive screams supported excellently by the two guitarists and backing vocalists; speaking of them, both guitarists managed to pull off a series of searing solos, batting them back and forth easily. My only real complaints were probably the already-mentioned slightly-off drumming and the lifeless bassist, who stuck out in amongst an otherwise energetic band thanks to his determined effort to not show any enjoyment in his otherwise solid playing. The lyrics were also sort of hit-and-miss. On the one hand, some songs featured rather simplistic lyrics – “Fashion following fuck!” was repeated a good few times serving as a chorus to one song – but really these suit the style of punk rock they played and lent themselves well to crowd participation.
Up next were Turbogeist, a London-based band who describe their sound as powerpop-thrash. Personally, I disagree. I’d simply call their sound a massive disappointment. As they walked on, I admit I was filled with a sense of dread. First on stumbled the singer and guitarist, Jimmy, sporting chinos and a long Sherlock-style coat. Looking out from behind his hair his eyes were unfocused and his speech slightly slurred as he gurgled into his microphone that they were indeed Turbogeist. Now, I know punk bands tend to eschew conventional ideas of image, but clearly these guys were so self-reflexive that they had gone full-circle and come out looking like a Killers cover band. Still, image means bugger all really – I’m really just picking on them for having an apparently-stoned frontman and a listless rest-of-band with no stage presence. Then they start playing. Oh dear. The crowd falls silent quickly as they turn out to be an experimental band – they possibly consider themselves avant-garde, but all they really turned out to be was bad. Awkward key changes, badly played out time-signature shifts, guitarists who couldn’t manage to play the solos they’d written and mashing together different genres so that a song that started out in punk could abruptly switch to a blues riff before turning again to a prog section. Ultimately the end sound was jarring and awful to listen to, although I can’t fault them for taking the risk and trying something experimental.
As if that weren’t enough, the band’s stage performance was laughable. The aforementioned stoned Sherlock impersonator vocalist-guitarist spent his time awkwardly and half-heartedly hopping, rubbing his guitar neck up against the mic stand to make some terrible sound and lifting his leg like he was one of those women in old movies who’ve just kissed their new-found love. The other guitarist also pulled some vocals duty, breaking out some decent screams. However, the effect was mitigated by his face turning bright red and puckering up while his legs crossed and he stood up on tip-toes. Really, the only solid performance was the bassist, who spent his time grooving out on stage left, almost a separate entity to the rest of the band. Finally, a last nail in the coffin – their set finishes, the feedback rings out and Sherlock decides the best course of action is to crack the mic stand one and smash it to the ground. Nice move, dude, break a microphone why don’t you? Be disrespectful to the staff at the venue, that’ll gain you brownie points.
The third and final support act were Mitzi’s Revenge, and were a welcome band after the preceding travesty. Possibly the best way to describe their sound is as a Yorkshire version of Cancer Bats themselves. In fact, they list some of their influences as Cancer Bats, Gallows and Slayer and boy does it show. Fast-paced and unrelenting, they dominated the club from the second they started playing. Opening up, Rich Goss let out an incredible scream and threw himself over the barriers and right into the middle of a newly opening circle pit while guitarist Ryan Duggleby laid down an awesome barrage of head-destroying riffs. Once he’d returned to the stage Rich threw himself into his vocals with the same vigour, jumping around stage and riling up the crowd. At no point in their criminally short set did they let up in their energetic performance, even managing to form the night’s only wall of death – and it was a rather impressive one as well, managing to enlist the entire crowd minus the front row who were all staunchly refusing to move, and in the face of this performance who can blame them? Again, they seemed to suffer from the curse of the invisible bassist who was standing directly in front me the entire set but seemed content to not move from his little corner spot. Still, nothing could spoil this performance – Mitzi’s Revenge were simply fantastic.
Finally, it was time for the main event. After teasing the crowd by flashing the lights in their prep room while the crowd were enjoying the venue’s Rage Against the Machine setlist, Cancer Bats came out to the expected massive cheers. All the band members were at the top of their game tonight as well; Mike Peters’ drumming was bombastic and constantly pounding the stage to bits, Scott Middleton’s guitarwork was as powerful as ever and Jaye Schwarzer’s distorted basslines drove through the entire crowd. In fact, he was equally as energetic as vocalist Liam Cormier, getting up on the barrier and jumping down in front of the front row in amongst dealing with a dodgy microphone stand (possibly the one damaged earlier by Turbogeist). And, of course, Liam was thoroughly at home throwing himself into the crowd and around the stage all the while dealing out an array of screams. He’s a fantastic frontman, perfectly riling up the crowd and leading the entire band. They played a large array of songs from across all 4 of their albums, as well as a track from their first demo. They also included some of their most famous tracks, leading out the end of their set with their cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and single Hail Destroyer. I have only one nitpick, really – that for the entire set the band were hocking all over the stage. Chalk this one up to my sensitive English need for manners. I mean, I don’t suppose it really matters, but it was kind of disgusting. Not that it affected their music or performance in any way. In the end I came out deafened, neck-aching, bruised along my ribs, drenched in sweat and water (cheers to Mike for upending a bottle of water on my head, I was pretty much entirely dehydrated by then and it was a lovely experience) and having enjoyed an incredible 3-and-a-half hours.
Shock Horror – a great new old-school punk band; recommended
Turbogeist – rubbish experimental noise; avoid
Mitzi’s Revenge – the UK Cancer Bats; recommended
Cancer Bats – strong, lively and great interaction with the crowd; recommended
(Originally posted on The Escapist: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.395685-Escapegoats-Live-Music-Review-Cancer-Bats-Shock-Horror-Turbogeist-and-Mitzis-Revenge)
For me, indie games are one of the most exciting things to happen to gaming since someone at Nintendo decided a fat Italian plumber beating up a turtle-dragon to rescue a princess would be a great idea. They showcase fantastic talent, incredible games and offer a very real hope that this miserable, stagnant mess of an industry can at least do something worthwhile.
However, there’s something I’ve noticed in playing these indie games. I find that, really, that there are only 3 types of indie games:
1 – Games that are incredible.
2 – Games that suck, but have one well-designed or implemented feature that stands out – not enough to save it, but that certainly deserves mention.
3 – Games that are outright bad.
For me, there aren’t any indie games that I’ve come away from thinking “meh”. Every one I’ve played falls into one of these categories. I’ll show you what I mean.
1. Games that are brilliant, fantastic, amazing, etc etc, gush gush.
For the most part, this is the widest category. So many indie games I’ve played are so incredibly well made. The example I’d like to use to illustrate this is Bastion.
Bastion,for those who don’t know, is an action RPG in which a beautifully voiced narrator tells the tale of The Kid, our enigmatic player character, in his quest to rebuild his world following a mysterious Calamity. From the off, we’re treated to stunning artwork and a world of truly luscious design, playing along to a soundtrack tinged with elements of both a Western and some strange trippy hip-hop-esque stuff. This certainly doesn’t do it justice – it’s not just a soundtrack, this a lovingly composed masterwork of an album, topped with three stand-out vocal tracks from each of the three other characters The Kid meets and believe me, they make your spine tingle with just how perfectly they’re produced, from the haunting, even chilling, vocals to the light but deft touch of the instruments behind them. Add a fluid narration that adjusts to the player’s actions while still keeping a coherent and well-crafted story, the best example of how to do a multiple choice ending and even making the player feel true sympathy for the antagonist without resorting to a mass of tired anti-villain cliches and you’ve got one hell of a game. But, enough gushing. On with the rant.
2. The Crushing Disappointment of the Bad Game with a Standout Feature.
Limbo is a critical darling that, in my opinion, deserves so little of the praise it gets. I picked it up in the last Humble Bundle and went into it expecting a good game. After all, it had a wad of praise from reviewers and it was featured in a bundle designed to show the best of the best indie games.
Here’s the thing: the first third is good. Amazing, even. An eerie, oppressive atmosphere, a proper feeling of insecurity and vulnerability and a giant monster spider chasing you through a forest otherwise populated by evil forest children who like nothing more than leaving bear traps in tall grass for you and hanging dead bodies around the path you take.
So far so good. The issue though is this: after the first third is done, after our spider problems are sorted, the game runs out of ideas.Puzzles are repeated (pretty much all of them are a variant of push box from point A to point B, climb to ledge C, or even the dreaded brain slug puzzles), the jumping is awkward, the atmosphere is drained away and, worst of all, the controls are awful. In a Pixel-Perfect Platformer like this, where your placement of yourself needs to be bang on, why then does the player character insist on taking a few extra steps after I let go of the run button? More often than not, those few extra steps correspond to the rest of the platform plus a step or two as the protagonist decides that he is the angsty, oppressive-world version of Peter Pan and can definitely fly if only he can strike out on his own. No, no you can’t. You fall and die. Stop this.
Anyway, what this all amounts to is the destruction of fun. A good platformer will be difficult, but gratifying to beat, whereas Limbo is just frustrating. There’s no feel-good sensation when beating another bloody box puzzle that you’ve had to repeat ad nauseum because the player character threw himself out onto that spike pit below. And this is every puzzle after the first third. So, Limbo, is to me, a poor game. It’s stunning opening sequence does little to placate me when I remember that more than half the game is a bland trudge through the doldrums of platformers broken up by having to retread my path because I’ve died thanks to a control issue. Again.
3. The Bad Games
Here’s another game that critics seem to love: Super Meat Boy. I don’t know why. Super Meat Boy is a platformer in which the eponymous hero must rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl (she’s covered in bandages – just in case that needed clearing up) from the clutches of the evil Dr Fetus, a, uhh, foetus in a jar with a monocle, top hat and suit. Obviously, right?
Super Meat Boy calls itself an homage to the ultra-hard platformers of old, but, much like Limbo, it makes the mistake of assuming this meant frustrating platforming helped (?) by bad controls and no real rewarding feeling to beating its challenges.
I’ll say it outright: Super Meat Boy isn’t fun. The hero has the same issue has Limbo‘s; that is, he doesn’t stop after you’ve let go of a movement button. His jumping is awkward and it appears to be random as to the strength of his jumps. Again, in a Pixel-Perfect Platformer, these are game-killing issues. They take the game from the realms of a fun challenge to a frustrating, hate-filled waste of time.
The other thing Super Meat Boy gets wrong is its confusing of humour and references. References can be amusing. Can. Where Super Meat Boy goes wrong is in that its references aren’t funny. They’re more an exhibit. Look, a reference! It has no context, no place in the story, narrative or game, but look! Hey, it’s a character from the internet, aren’t we funny? No. Here’s an example. The second world of the game is (very, very loosely) themed around a hospital. The opening scene sees Dr Fetus transform into a bat and fly off as lightning crashes around the
castle hospital as Meat Boy stands outside the looming iron gates. It’s clearly a reference to Castlevania. But why is it there at all? Dr Fetus can’t become a bat in game. Why does the hospital look like a European castle in a horror film? Why does it have cast iron manor house gates? Why is there a horror theme at all? There’s no context, no reason and no humour.
Ultimately, Super Meat Boy isn’t fun, which is the cardinal sin for a game. Games are designed to entertain – any that fails in this is a bad game, and Super Meat Boy is a bad game. There’s no fun and no humour; only frustration and references to the internet and games of the past. And that’s a real shame. Meat Boy, originally a game published on Newgrounds, was wonderful. It got the balance between difficulty and fun absolutely spot-on. But it’s Steam-released cousin doesn’t. The only thing “Super” about Super Meat Boy is the name.