Previously on Sweating with Strangers: the Stereophonics don’t like any writers, and Turin Brakes’ drummer doesn’t like this one:
So, here’s the thing. The other day I was doing some prep work for future blog posts (yes, I prepare for them, don’t look so surprised!), and I thought about how the first time I went to the Bristol Academy I much preferred it to the Birmingham Academy. The only problem was that on my gig spreadsheet it clearly showed I hadn’t been to the Birmingham Academy when I first went to the Bristol one. How could this be?
Well, I quickly realised my list was missing this gig: American ska-punk band Less than Jake, at the old Birmingham Academy on Dale End.
This is both exciting and disturbing. Exciting, because who knows what other gigs I may have forgotten!? There may be great events that had been erased from my memory when I compiled the list, and the thought of remembering them makes me feel all warm inside. Disturbing, because it means we’ve quite quickly stumbled across a gig about which I have very little memory, and very little to say, and I had rather hoped that this would wait until we reached the “attending gigs while utterly hammered” stage.
It also means all my landmark shows have shifted by one. I’ll need to write to the Temperance Movement and ask them to return the commemorative “Hodge’s 100th Gig” plaque.
Is it obvious yet that I’m padding?
In spring 2001, I agreed to drive my young friend Ben to Birmingham to see Less than Jake for his birthday. I only knew one of their songs – “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” – which I did really like, but I couldn’t really get into the rest of their stuff, despite trying to listen to their albums in the build-up to the gig. I’ve listened to a lot of their songs this week to jog my memory, but all my favourite tracks came out after this gig, so wouldn’t have been much help. I was always a much bigger Reel Big Fish fan, but this wasn’t about me, it was about being a selfless friend.
It was a momentous occasion in some ways, for it was the first time I had been to a gig in central Brum, the place that, years later, I would come to call home.
It was the first time I had driven there and – as per my last adventure – we got very lost en route, on account of the city seemingly being in the process of being dug up and rebuilt, and therefore all maps more than a month old being of no use. I remember passing an absolutely colossal muddy hole in the ground, which would later become the Bull Ring shopping centre, and eventually stumbling across the venue by accident.
I feel bad for previously mocking my Dad’s ability to get lost on the way to the NEC, but he’s not reading this blog, so who cares.
It was also the first time I’d get chicken from what would one day become my local KFC – (everyone has a local KFC, right?), just around the corner from Dale End. It was far from the last time though, including after it made national news for poo particles being found in the ice. Don’t judge me, the queue was really small that week!
We parked on one of the higher floors of the car park directly opposite the venue, and I looked out over a sea of black hoodies in the queue. It struck me as humorous that here were thousands of young people all trying to dress in an ‘alternative’ fashion, but in exactly the same way as each other. Having never owned a black hoodie, it was I who was actually going to stand out. I was also clearly going to feel old for the first time in my life, which was quite impressive at 19 years of age.
The old Birmingham Academy was my first real ‘club’ venue (the size hierarchy of venue types being stadium > outdoor > arena > theatre > club > pub > kitchen), and as I said earlier, I wasn’t a big fan. It was too flat and the floor level went back too far under the upper deck, meaning if you weren’t near the front you felt like you were missing out. I much prefer places like Bristol Academy, Rock City in Nottingham or the Kentish Town Forum, which are wider and don’t go back so far. It leads to a much better atmosphere.
Did you know Less than Jake are so-called because a member of the band had a dog called Jake who was treated as the most important member of the family, and thus everyone else was “less than Jake”?
Padding, padding, padding.
I didn’t venture very near the front. I was stone cold sober and still scared of all human contact after the deathly crush of Morfa Stadium, so under the pretense of being responsible for my young companion, we hovered near the sound desk. Nonetheless, we had a decent view of the two support acts: an Australian band called Frenzal Rhomb, and *checks online* Capdown. Capdown played? I should’ve remembered that. Damn!
Of Less than Jake’s set, I remember that it was fine, no more than that. But it’s probably a genre thing, because when I saw Reel Big Fish and NOFX years later, the same problems would stand out to me.
It was just a bit haphazard for my liking. Chat and comedy between each song; no discernible flow to the set-list. I know that makes me sound old and boring, but when you’re raised on gigs being very clearly structured, flowing smoothly and set-lists being well thought through, it’s a little jarring to sense that a show is just being thrown together on the fly. But hey, if it was a band I was more into (see Reel Big Fish, 2002) I’d be able to just let it slide, and I’m sure I was in the minority at that Less than Jake show – Ben certainly loved it, bouncing off excitedly to the mosh-pit and back on more than one occasion – so who am I to complain?
* Oh! I just watched the video above and remembered that there was a guy in a skull mask dancing around on stage the whole time. Why? Why not?!!!
- No idea. I can’t find one, and the songs would mean very little to me if I did. They definitely played ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ though, because there would’ve been a riot if they hadn’t. And that one about Gainesville. I think.
- Looking around online, it looks like they mixed the songs up night by night, which would normally get them Hodge Points for unpredictability, but it’s balanced out by the tossed-together feel of the whole show, so they break about even.
I shall leave you this time with my one crystal clear memory from this gig. It came, not from the headliners, but from Frenzal Rhomb, who decided to drop this knowledge bomb on us all:
(Imagine thick Aussie accents)
“Are you all watching Neighbours? Madge isn’t looking too good, huh? Well we’re about six months ahead of you and… SHE DIES!”
“And Harold f**ks her corpse!”
“Yeah Neighbours get’s pretty f**ked up for a few months.”
Yep, I may have barely remembered this gig existed, but “Harold f**ks her corpse” will stay with me until I die.
Thanks for reading.