Taking shelter from the bitter cold weather of Liverpool on this frosty November evening, Blaenavon’s newfound cult following piled into the Arts Club Theatre for a jam-packed night of musical diversity. Blaenavon treated their crowd to not one, but two great support acts. First up was the BBC Sound of 2018 nominee Jade Bird, whose raspy vocals and country-folk crossover style went down well with the audience, despite her failed attempt at speaking in a Scouse accent. Her voice was fabulous but was, sometimes sadly overshadowed by the chatty audience.
Secondly, The Night Café took to the stage to roaring applause, which was no surprise considering it was a hometown gig for them. The Night Café’s success lies in their ability to create fun, summery pop-rock, with subtle elements of grunge. Their latest single ‘Turn’ showcased their evolution as a band and made up for the energy and power that some of their other songs were lacking.
At exactly 9:30pm, the lights went down and the Blaenavon logo appeared on a screen at the rear of the stage. Lorde’s ’Green Light’ started blasting out of the speakers as Ben, Harris and Frank stormed onto the stage. Harris’ drums kicked off the set as they introduced ‘Hell Is My Head’, a fan favourite from their 2015 ‘MISS WORLD’ EP. Ben’s vocals (always part of their trademark sound) really stood out on this track, and managed confidently draw all attention in the room, even from the neon yellow tape placed over bassist Frank’s nipples. If the music didn’t indicate that Blaenavon aren’t just your typical indie rock band, then that certainly did.
The stage was suddenly bathed in a deep red light as the band began to play ‘Let’s Pray’, with frontman Ben Gregory seeming visibly impressed by the crowd’s energy. This track was somewhat spoiled by a giddy superfan, Alfie, who decided to crowd surf during the song. Ben responded by shaking his head like a disapproving father…
‘Into The Night’ started off quite slowly, giving casual fans a bit of a break from the heavy rock that characterised the majority of the set. But as with most Blaenavon songs, the track built to a crescendo throughout its length, with their performance truly bringing the song to life and bringing an added depth to their recorded sound.
One of the most surprisingly impressive tracks performed by the band was ‘The Monte Carlo Kid’, which is a lot lighter than some of their older tracks. The band also showcased a new song, ‘All Your Vanity’ from their upcoming second album. This track featured the clearest vocals of any Blaenavon song to date, sounding quite funky and a bit similar to The Night Café, indicating that the two bands may have taken inspiration from each other after being on tour together for so long! ‘All Your Vanity’ struck the balance between the beauty of some of their more acoustic tracks and the high energy intensity of their better-known songs.
‘Lonely Side’ highlighted Blaenavon’s greatest strength – they have written songs with simple yet incredibly catchy guitar riffs, which are enough to drive the crowd totally wild. It’s on this track that Ben shines as a formidable and commanding frontman, with the crowd in the palm of his hand. Next up was ‘Take Care’, a song which you can’t really control your response to… it has a magic quality to it that often transcends the venues in which they play. He and Frank also had a moment of true rock ’n’ roll in ‘I Will Be The World’, as the pair clambered onto the speakers and jumped off before running around the stage.
Returning to the stage for a three-song encore, Ben wandered out alone and began to sing the title track of their debut album ‘That’s Your Lot’, featuring the poignant lyric “I can’t throw away the reminders of those brilliant days”, one which resonated with the mostly teenage audience who were clinging onto the memories of their childhood.
Their Smiths-esque single ‘Orthodox Man’ prompted an attempted another swell of excitement from the crowd, to the notable dissatisfaction of the venue’s security. Despite this, the band laughed it off and kept the energy high as they finished with ‘Prague’ and encouraged the biggest singalong of the night with the lyric “But it’s you I said / You keep running through my head / I swear it so”. It’s perfectly clear why Blaenavon’s music is inspiring such strong emotions amongst a younger audience; their lyrics encapsulate the transition from childhood to adulthood in a similar way to that of Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’. In that sense, Ben Gregory has a lot more in common with his idol than he realises and suddenly the choice of ‘Green Light’ as their walk-on track seems much more apt. They certainly left me, and the rest of the crowd, desperate for more, and I’m sure we won’t have long to wait if new music is already in the pipeline!