Shelf:Life – Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, Glasgow – 13/12/12

Posted: 04/01/2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sipping a glass of water that tastes like old beer – and reflecting that this is wholly in keeping with the somehow endearing but positively shitey decor and stench of Sleazy’s – thoughts turn to recent promotional allegations of a near sold out show and the mind works hard to marry this up with the smelly basement’s sparse strands of disinterested looking patrons.

Fortunately, the venue does busy up a bit as the support acts cease and desist and Shelf:Life take the stage, with consciousness of the disappointing start to the evening driving them to toss out a pleading “we’re Shelf:Life and we’d appreciate it if everyone would stand up.”

A band formed as a result of the members’ simultaneous enrolment on a Commercial Music course, these chaps are the most recent musical darlings of The University of the West of Scotland, in the same vein as Drive-By Argument – who enjoyed a brief stint in the spotlight when one of their songs was used as entrance music for some American sporting team.

Sixteen Sixteen Six and Shelf:Life have crossed paths once before – in this very same venue – and it has to be said that the opening of the last performance was drastically more exciting, featuring as it did an atmospheric intro tape and an audience made up of a whole lot more people.

At the time, although the performance was not reviewed, this use of an intro tape seemed a very ambitious and self-assured move, given the band’s youth and lack of experience. However, tonight’s show has no such frills and, in hindsight, this absence will prove most poignant.

Whereas – the first time around – Shelf:Life came across as being uncannily sure of themselves, tonight’s gig sees that attitude stretched dangerously close to the point of arrogance, billed as it is as the band’s Last Hometown Headline Show of 2012.

Let’s just take a wee reality check here…

This isn’t Biffy Clyro performing Blackened Sky in its entirety – in a deliberately intimate venue – in an effort to give something back to their original fanbase; this is a relatively unknown and unsigned band, formed just over a year ago, playing in the biggest venue they can currently hope to come close to filling.

Just saying…

—–

Covering this gig has been a truly tough task. Shelf:Life are a talented set of musicians with adequate stage presence and some catchy tunes but, in spite of all this, something just doesn’t quite add up.

The performance simply isn’t a visceral or fierce enough experience to live up to their self-imposed hype; there’s enthusiasm but no real sense of urgency or hunger. It very much seems as though they’ve spent so long being told – and telling themselves – they’re the next big thing that they’ve been left with an intrinsic acceptance of their own perceived grandeur and a subsequent lack of that excited fire that propels bands who are just starting out.

Even the part of their set which is supposed to be the heaviest moment – a shouted refrain of “blow my fucking brains out” – lacks any sort of genuine bite. It feels like watching an established band perform a song they’ve played a million times before, having forgotten all the emotion involved in its creation.

—–

The main problem with the earlier-berated cocky billing is that it suggests a band already scraping the heights of superstardom and the aforementioned lack of past gimmickry reflects this misguided sense of status, as if the amount of effort put forth to make the gig a standout experience is irrelevant because the very presence of Shelf:Life in their ‘hometown’ is enough to draw the crowds and satiate the punters. 

This is risky when you’re still a long way from being an established act, outside of your place of learning.

This aside, however, tonight’s performance is lively and tightly choreographed, with a constant – and undeniably lovable – exuberance emanating from bassist Stuart, who lets rip frequent grinning bellows of “Glasgooooow!”

The music itself is enjoyable enough but, at the same time, nothing you haven’t heard before from other burgeoning Scottish guitar acts. Of course, Twin Atlantic et al have achieved huge levels of success, so it stands to reason that this lot may soon enough be courted by the same moguls currently guiding other such bands on an upwards career trajectory. In fact, the band have been working with Scots engineering maestro Bruce Rintoul on their debut EP.

Another way of wording this would be to explain that Shelf:Life are very good guitar pop music. The inescapable reality that every chorus sounds like an over-indulgent Hogmanay reveller roaring ‘whooooooo-oooooooooah” in varying rhythms according to the song makes the material enjoyably catchy yet unoriginal in the same way that the chorus of every R&B pop song relies on generic auto-tuned lyrics about decadent lifestyles.

They have an accessible, universal appeal because they’re not writing about anything overly challenging or pushing their sound in any new direction. They’re just making a cheerful noise and seemingly having fun while they do so and, in fairness, there’s really nothing wrong with that.

When you add all of this up, it becomes clear that this is a band who are being very shrewdly groomed for success and doing a fairly good job of marketing themselves as a triumph – the gripe about the cocky billing is one that probably wouldn’t occur to the casual punter in for a pint and some music – without actually having achieved a great amount as yet. The question of whether or not they are worthy or capable of such success is a moot point at present, as the current priority for the band should be to work on being – and enjoying being – an unsigned band and finding their own sound.

To give in to these apparent delusions of grandeur and continue to market themselves as more of a success than they actually are could see Shelf:Life rise to great heights of fame. However, it could also see them end up like the musical equivalent of a child actor, bitter and regretful that their premature – perceived or genuine – prominence robbed them of what should have been their golden years.

If you’re immediately huge, you have no glory days of starting out to fondly reminisce about. When bands return to where they started out and play real ‘hometown’ shows, it should be a throwback to the days when such labels were alien concepts to their innocent and exuberant mindset.

—–

It is essential to note that the songs introduced as the band’s older material – which bring back fairly fond memories from last time around – are much more lively and exciting than their newer material, seeing the band purvey more gratifying levels of energy and vocals which play less heavily on the Scots twang. Perhaps these indicate a time when the band had a more realistic view of where they sat.

Also very impressive is the offering of a free demo CD, which provides a nice change from the typical unsigned artist’s manoeuvre of directing potential new fans towards a Soundcloud or Bandcamp page. As much as it may appear to amount to the same thing, it’s still more gratifying to be handed something tangible.

The crowd in front of the band tonight seem to lap the performance up, especially towards the end of what is undisputedly a back-loaded set, baying for the boys to take their “taps aff” – with drummer Iain happily complying – and enthusiastically chanting the “there’s a creature in the water” refrain of one of the evening’s final songs. This considered, Shelf:Life are clearly popular amongst their peers and are evidently able to entertain an audience.

They could well be destined for great things but it’s up to them whether they play into the hands of those looking for the Next Big Scottish Guitar Act or take the time to have some fun and create their own style and sound.

Definitely one to revisit in future.

Shelf:Life on Facebook

Shelf:Life on Soundcloud

Comments
  1. Paul O'Grady says:

    You could say that they have a limited shelf life!

    This was nice. I like how you always describe the setting and that because it is the interesting bit. Most of these bands sound boring as fuck and I have no interest in reading about them. But the establishing the setting bit is nice.

    As an aside, I didn’t appreciate your jibe against RnB music! Presently, RnB, or at least some of it, is one of the few musical genres that remain innovative and exciting. This Shelf Life lot could be any one of a thousand other bands.

    Omen ignotum pro magnifico.

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