Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff
Thursday, 9th September 2021
Last week I attended my first large-scale outdoor show in what seems like aeons, this week it’s back to the clubs for the first date on Godsticks’ short tour of the UK, originally scheduled for April 2020 and an early victim of the Lockdown postponements that threw the gig calendar into disarray.
My first trip into a city in all that time, it was a strange day all round, but things definitely appear to be getting back to some kind of normal with plenty of people on the streets and bars and restaurants seemingly busy – with a lot more outside seating than previously. The Fuel Club runs an app ordering service, which led to some panic when I arrived at the bar, necessitating the tricky business of downloading apps without glasses whilst thirstily eyeing the beer and wondering whether I’d actually be able to get any.
Back in the main room of the revamped Fuel (Godsticks bassist Dan Nelson told me they couldn’t load in until after 5 as the new floor was being laid that day!), the support were already on stage.
Cardiff quartet Trep play heavy riffing rock with shades of prog and metal. There’s a definite groove to the recently revamped line-up, although, under the low ceiling, the volume slightly muffled the sound for my poor old ears. That said, there was plenty to hold the interest, particularly Sam’s bass playing. Singer Rachel has a fine rock voice and with plenty of guitar shredding and thumping drums, it’s a rousing start to the evening that certainly kept the rock club regulars happy. I’d certainly like to catch them again.
And so to Godsticks‘ first show since mid-2019, finally showcasing latest album Inescapable, which was released way back in February 2020.
After a convoluted history, Godsticks have settled into a stable line-up, the ever-present Darran Charles and bassist Dan Nelson (who has now been in the band for over 10 years and will be familiar to many from his work with Magenta) were joined by guitarist Gavin Bushell and drummer Tom Price for 2017’s Faced With Rage album. The twin-guitar setup accentuates the heavier direction that the music is now taking and the band is now properly bedded in to a distinctive style with Inescapable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the setlist exclusively featured material from the last three albums, including 2015’s Emergence. It would be nice if some of the earlier material could be reintegrated into the set, although that might be problematical given the varying style. However, as a pick of songs from the band’s recent history, this setlist ticks just about all the boxes.
The volume was immediately more friendly to the intricacies of the band’s sound, allowing every element of the quartet to shine. There’s an intensity from the off, the band clearly well-drilled and showing no signs of the long layoff with blistering versions of the first three songs from Inescapable (albeit with the second and third transposed). The chunky opening riff of Denigrate certainly pinned back the lugs. Dan’s bass work shines as an integral part of the music and Darran is in very good voice. The edgy Relief adds a new dimension and the band are already as tight as you like, the stop/start elements handled with pinpoint accuracy, Victim changing the pace and bringing in more subtlety, with atmospheric drumming from Tom Price.
There was clearly relief to be back on the stage as the band relished the chance to play to the enthusiastic audience. Darran’s typically humorous and self-deprecating between songs banter added to the convivial atmosphere and at one point a good-natured moshpit briefly developed; an unusual spectacle, but fitting with the band’s enthusiastic heaviness.
The riffs are often imperious, set against a resonant low-end, Darran’s voice adding a rich warmth. The first dip into Faced With Rage is an intense Hard to Face, shifting deftly into the much more delicate and melodic Surrender, beautifully delivered by Darran, before the stuttering intro to Guilt. All of these songs have a highly idiosyncratic feel and come across well in the live environment.
Gavin Bushell provides much of the lead work, a perfect foil for Darran, allowing him to concentrate on the vocal presentation whilst retaining the guitar-centric approach of the recent material. Having two such talented lead guitarists is a massive plus, allowing them to trade off each other and augment their individual styles. The soloing from both men was exemplary.
Emergence is one of my favourite Godsticks albums, getting a look in with the double-punch of Ruin and Below the Belt, showing the djent influences that the band frequently utilise these days. It works well if you like that sort of thing – which I do.
A subtle new arrangement of Revere took us to Emergence‘s title track, epic in scale and with a vocal and guitar solo to match. Change receives a typically cheeky introduction from Darran, dedicating it to his wife because she hates it, adding a good natured “so fuck you” for good measure! Hope he makes it to the next show… ( ;o ) The riffing at the end of this one was superb.
The run to the tape sees a startling Time, a dynamic We Are Leaving and the awesome set closer that is Lack of Scrutiny. With nowhere for the band to go on the cramped stage, it’s a quick turnaround into a bristling encore of Exit Stage Right, Darran’s voice showing the first signs of wear, but no matter, it’s an exhilarating way to tie everything up.
There will be those who see Godsticks as a band who fall between two stools: too dynamic for metal, too metal for prog. Make that mistake at your peril, this is a fine band that works together as an awesome unit, keen to hit the ‘Heavy’ button where necessary but unafraid to take things into other dimensions, and the set reflected this.
As my gig-buddy Pete said at the end, “They’re far too good to be playing places this small”. He’s right. If you enjoy a masterful band with great material and the ability to deliver it to best advantage, grab a ticket as soon as you can.
Rejoice – it’s so good to have live music back!
Photos by Jez Rowden and Pete Rogers
Godsticks play Gullivers in Manchester tonight (10th September) and The Black Heart in London tomorrow (11th September).
Hard to Face
Below the Belt
We Are Leaving
Lack of Scrutiny
Exit Stage Right
Darran Charles – Vocals, Guitars
Dan Nelson – Bass, Backing Vocals
Gavin Bushell – Guitars
Tom Price – Drums