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As far as energetic guitar and drum two-pieces go, the now defunct As In Bear were phenomenal. So, also, are their forebears Bronto Skylift. However, with that said, let’s give Young Philadelphia their due and try to avoid beginning the feature by drawing comparisons between them and – presumably – their influences.

An energetic guitar and drum two-piece, consisting of brothers Jason and Graham Costello, Young Philadelphia – who may or may not be named after the Paul Newman-led 1959 film – are currently making waves in the same pond previously terrorised by Bronto Skylift and As In Bear.

Aye, the operative word in the first paragraph was try, right!?

In setting up, drummer Graham angles himself and his notably sparse kit – clearly having neither the requirement nor the patience for toms, floor or otherwise – an unapologetic ninety degrees left of the position your average stick-merchant would opt to face in the quaint Soviet-themed venue.

The guitarist, on the other hand, doesn’t look to have any intention of joining him on his chosen path of radical positioning and this moves the critical mind to wonder whether this difference in stance might be a metaphor for a soon-to-be-witnessed variation in stage personae.

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Upon finishing farting about with his effects pedals and whipping round to face his accomplice, in the process throwing a dirty big bastard of a spanner into the works of the previous proposition, Jason shoots a glance that sees the siblings wire straight into a criminally infectious rumble of percussion melding with chords which then proceeds to crash into a furious ear-splitting din of Converge-like proportions.

Hands fumble for ear plugs – with at least one observer being seen to stuff pieces of ripped up napkins into his lugs – and thus begins a set as abrasive as it is cathartic, seemingly not least for Graham who appears to be utilising his kit as a sort of conduit through which to channel a legion of horrific personal demons. Judging, that is, by his apparent compulsion to attack each of its components with every fibre of his being, bodily flinging himself repeatedly into the meagre percussion station as though intent on actually ploughing through it.

A casual observer happening through the door of Bar Bloc would be forgiven for interpreting the scenario as Jason having taken the stage and deeply immersed himself in a solo guitar performance, which has enraged one spectator to the point where he has hastily assembled half a drum kit and set about piling into it in a sort of “this is what you’d get, ya bastard, if all these people weren’t here” type gesture.

Let’s stay with the analysis of this ferocity for a second, lest it not be done absolute justice…

Fringe flailing, Graham bounces on his drum stool – to an extent that sees him actually rising inches clear of the leather – to ensure that every thrashing blow counts, throwing so much of himself into his performance that he is, at points, close to lying prostrate atop his snare. Each time, he succeeds in regaining his composure for just long enough to scream unintelligibly in the direction of his brother (an entirely futile gesture, given the decibel level, and one made evident only by the contortion of his mouth and visible strain of his throat muscles) before the sheer effort involved in manifesting such aural terror forces his head to loll back down again.

Standing directly in the firing line of this onslaught, Jason succeeds in holding up his end of the performance by harnessing the primal force of the drums and hooking it into a groove reminiscent of that purveyed by early Rage Against the Machine. This, of course, is rendered all the more impressive when one considers how bass-dependent such a sound was and reconciles this notion with the fact that this is just one man with a guitar, responsible not only for injecting melody into the madness but also for pitching his output appropriately in order to be heard over his partner’s fury.

The brothers are an excellent pairing, appearing as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type entity, with one thoroughly out of control and the other deftly meshing the fruits of this lunacy with his own offerings to create some of the catchiest noise currently doing the rounds.

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As regards the audience, reading this may conjure up images of a seething whirlwind of bodies but, although those in the frontlines of the cramped performance space alternate between appreciative nodding and Lemmy-esque devastation of their neck tendons, the crowd as a whole seems rooted to the spot in a sort of trance. So enraptured are the most recent slew of Young Philadelphia converts that it wouldn’t seem entirely outlandish to envision the guitarist passing out tumblers of toxic Kool Aid – without word or expression – and the crowd unquestioningly knocking them back in tandem.

It is obscenely difficult to tell when one song ends and another begins but by the time the performance is halfway through, not a single intelligible word has been spoken. Going by the aforementioned way in which the Bar Bloc patrons stand transfixed by this sensory assault, however, this is an omission that goes entirely unnoticed or unfelt by the majority of the crowd.

Somewhere towards the end of the set,  a list of thank-yous – the first clear oral offering of the evening – paves the way for a segment of pedal manipulation and atmospheric fret-picking, coupled with a sparse series of snare raps, which soon enough careers into another cavalcade of chaotic volume.

As far as the music itself goes, as catchy as it is, it wouldn’t be the first choice for the soundtrack to a long drive or a run. In a live context, however, Young Philadelphia are an awe-inspiring force and positively worthy successors in the Bronto-Bear bloodline.

And what an awesome name!

Young Philadelphia on Facebook

Young Philadelphia on Bandcamp

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…

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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.

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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.

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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

There’s a scene in the pilot episode of The Sopranos where Tony confides in Dr Melfi that he feels it best “to be in on something from the ground floor.” That line holds particular resonance in the context of this long overdue feature on the currently ubiquitous Glasgow outfit known as Crusades.

Imagine, if you will, that you first became aware of Crusades when you noticed they were sharing a bill with The Darien Venture in The Captain’s Rest at the beginning of April. Imagine you were at this gig and toyed with the idea of reviewing this early performance. Then imagine that an unfortuate coupling of youthful excitement and contraband tonic wine intervened, leaving you present in body, but not quite in mind, and you consequently failed to pay the attention required to complete such a heady feat of wordsmanship.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and you’re now relieving yourself in a Bar Bloc toilet cubicle when your eyes wander to your immediate left and you’re greeted with the sight of a familiar moniker emblazoned above a crudely scrawled iron cross:

Your first reaction is to peruse the resultant graffitied argument about the – most likely misconstrued – racist overtones of the etching and your high-tops are very nearly doused in your own urine as derisive laughter ripples forth, inspired by the sheer redundancy of directing moral outrage at something daubed on a toilet wall.

However, when the mirth generated by this exericse in futility eventually subsides, it strikes you that you’ve missed a chance to be in on the ground floor here…

The fact that these guys have only been gigging since March and already have some guerrilla toilet promotion to commend them suggests that it’s too late to tip them as the next big thing. There is also the very real concern that they have now been too hyped up to be viewed from a truly impartial standpoint and that the expectations that have already amassed can only lead to disappointment.

It is what it is, however, and you decide to strap on a pair and head to the delightfully dilapidated basement dive that is Nice ‘N’ Sleazy for their next gig.

Crusades are opening tonight’s bill and their early starting time finds them sitting around a table in front of the stage, in a room that is close to deserted, with five minutes left until they’re due to perform.

Possibly as a result of this disappointing initial turnout, the evening’s itinerary is delayed slightly and a slightly more respectable crowd has amassed by the time the guys have taken the stage and offered “We’re Crusades!” as their formal introduction.

A cacophony of feedback heralds the beginning of their set and a throng of bodies dutifully, almost instinctively, surge forward and arrange themselves in what quickly becomes an auditory firing line as the basis for Crusades’ burgeoning reputation for seismic volume is made abundantly clear. Sonically, the four-piece resemble self-titled era Alexisonfire, except with vocals that inescapably resemble those belonging to Billy Talent’s Ben Kowalewicz and an aggression and urgency more reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

Visually, though, Crusades are something of an anomaly. The Dillinger comparison can be extended to the physique of their heavily-tattooed frontman, who cuts an intimidating figure as he finger taps and screeches his way through what is devastatingly brutal opening salvo. Supporting this aggressive stance, the guitarist – who seems the most volatile of the bunch – positively rockets around the stage for the duration of the song. On the other hand, sharing a stage with this frantic coupling, drummer and bassist seem to favour much more reserved personas and keep their movement levels fairly moderate at first.

This isn’t quite the instant all-out explosion initially expected and this is where those insidious expectations begin to rear their ugly head and the worries begin to set in.

Have they become lacklustre?

Is that golden period of innocent enthusiasm and unbridled aggression already over?

Are they becoming too full of themselves and feeling a sting of indignation at being on first?

Mercifully, these concerns prove to be unfounded as the boys’ stride seems to ride in on the wave of tonight’s first breakdown, which proves to be the first of many. It is the pristine execution of these insanely heavy moments that show how strikingly tight and well-rehearsed the outfit are and, by the time they near the end of this first number, the room is positively shaking.

As they take a second to tune up between the first two songs, they address what they label “a bit of a crazy start” and there is a palpable hope that this is not a sign that they’re about to tone anything down.

All such fears are instantly allayed as the second unnamed song proves to be shorter in length but definitely equal in violence. It is now clear that those in search of regular helpings of melody are in the wrong place entirely. The word “pummel” seems to flash relentlessly across the field of subliminal vision throughout the set, as Crusades proceed to crank up the aggression and fire forth their wonderfully cathartic post hardcore assault.

Although the majority of their material feels quite similar, this isn’t necessarily a negative in itself. Their output is less about variety and more concerned with sheer ferocity and, with this considered, a little more vigour from the rhythm section could only serve to further enhance the live experience. To be fair, though, they are at a very young stage in their development as a band and it is perfectly plausible that the members in question have opted to focus on cementing their groove before they start to segue into the ferocious kinetics exhibited by their guitarist. There is certainly no question that everyone is pulling their weight musically.

As a concise but captivating five-song set comes to an abrupt close, it becomes clear just how unfounded any initial concerns were and just how unfair it perhaps was to arrive at a gig expecting an opening act to ignite from the first chord. As it was, the boys positively combusted from the second song onwards and this stands as testament to the sheer force that is Crusades.

It all just adds to the regret of not having paid more attention to that Captain’s Rest performance…

Crusades on Facebook

Listen to Crusades

In an unsigned music context, it’s nigh on impossible to utter the word “showcase” without throwing everyone in earshot into ecstatic conniptions. The term smacks of raw talent and passion and conjures up the fanciful scenario where the most worthy of the bands on display shatters rules, throws the Vs to convention and creates a spectacle serving as their triumphant breakthrough and setting them firmly on an upwards trajectory, the likes of which their initial fanbase never dreamed.

Of course, as much as this is a very possible outcome, it isn’t the most common or realistic one. Combine this with the fact that local promoters toss the word around with sheer abandon and you have the very real danger of the word losing all original meaning and significance.

A showcase should be about more than just a tenuously linked selection of bands taking it in turns to dribble out a few of their staple numbers, all the while keeping their metaphorical begging hands out for publicity, recognition or record deals.

A showcase should be a carefully planned event, featuring a well thought out and hand-picked bill, comprising acts who are not only known to the promoters but who have made a significant impression upon them.

A showcase should aim to display the talent the organisers feel to be deserving of immediate attention and, as a result, should be based on nothing more than passion; It should be one of those musical endeavours which are brought about by nothing other than the ‘love of the game.’

In the interest of the retention of this meaning, the term certainly should not be used lightly…

With this in mind, Sixteen Sixteen Six are proud to align ourselves with the forthcoming Ayrshire Showcase at Pivo Pivo. The free event will run all day and feature two separate stages: An acoustic stage sponsored by The Kitchen Sessions and another sponsored by A Series of Controlled Explosions which will cater to the ‘turned up to 11’ end of the Ayrshire music spectrum.

Those involved in the organisation of the showcase are Ayrshire music stalwarts who genuinely know their stuff, so it looks set to be a truly worthwhile milestone in the progression of a scene that, a few years ago, seemed little more than a ripple in the pond.

It’s a truly exciting time to be a local music fan and this is your chance to make sure you’re a part of it all!

The event takes place on Sunday 4th September and in-depth coverage from Sixteen Sixteen Six is a given so, if you can’t be there on the day, make sure you read about it here.

That way you can at least pretend you were there!

Pivo Pivo Ayrshire Showcase on Facebook

A Series of Controlled Explosions on Facebook

The Kitchen Sessions on Facebook