Howards Alias – Leeds Packhorse

By paul

The Bassment is a deceptive venue, from the outside it looks like a dingy backstreet club but from the inside it’s actually quite a spacious little place, fitting around 350 punters into a snug gig-going area. The stage is tiny and only viewable for maybe a third of that number and the floor is stickier than a toffee factory, but it’s half-decent nonetheless. My first trip to the venue was made all the more special with the joint trip by two of the UK’s best ska bands, well ska in one shape or form – NoComply and Howards Alias.

Anyway, supports come first and it’s local heroes and Punktastic legends MILK2SUGARS who start things off and unfortunately they get a lukewarm reception. They’re not used to opening and their inexperience showed by treating the gig like any other. Unfortunately the small group of fans, most of which are friends, merely stand and watch and the lack of interaction hits the band, with their own energy levels aren’t as high as usual. Still, it’s not a particularly bad performance, the likes of ‘Games’ rock like the proverbial bastard and will go down a treat at PB4. But the slowie ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Lonely’ comes across like a reject Boyzone song and ruins the flow, and being hyper critical (as they are friends) some of the moves are still far too choreographed. Singer Venus is a very talented frontman but he seems to be shackled by something. Infact I haven’t seen him break those chains since their Rock Open jaunt in Scunthorpe last summer. Then they looked like a band that looked set to become absolutely massive, somewhere it’s gone a bit wrong because the strides they were making have become far smaller. When they’re on fire M2S are as entertaining as it gets, but tonight they merely smoulder. If M2S were a jigsaw puzzle they’d be the annoying Christmas present that’s missing a piece – you can see the final picture but there’s something important that’s gone astray. (6)

Compare the fun and games of M2S to the abomination that is THE AGENCY and, well, there is no comparison. I’ll get one thing straight, The Agency can play, the vocalist can sing and they’re tight at what they do. But what they do is the most horrible and ill-fitting concoction of music I’ve heard in a long time. Possibly the world’s first screamska band (now there’s a new genre for the NME), while one vocalist sings away merrily another vest-wearing yoof bellows at the top of his lungs. It’s ill-fitting and merely makes you question what on Earth they’re doing. The cover of Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’ shows they can play when they follow the rulebook, but while originality is usually good in this case it’s just plain nasty. A friend of the band really ought to make them watch a recording of a live gig and they’ll see that playing to your three friends, cracking shit jokes and begging the audience to buy a t-shirt does not make a good live set. (3)

Compare this lot to NOCOMPLY and they are universes apart. Kelly and the boys have come on leaps and bounds in the last six months and are quite possibly the best live band in the UK. With a stage that severely cramps their style, Kelly is still able to prowl around like she owns the joint and with her piercing scream and scowl you won’t argue over ownership. Jon bashes out metallic riff after metallic riff, even knocking out ‘Enter Sandman’ during songs to show where their allegiances lie. Newies are aired in between cuts from their fantastic ‘Your Life Is Your Direction’ EP, with opener ‘Falling From Crosses’ a behemoth and with M2S providing gang vocals for the title track, it’s a set which is thoroughly entertaining and extremely sweaty. ‘Decide’ is another highlight and a perfect example of why this band are headed for the big leagues. You look at the US big-name ska bands such as Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish and neither band have the stage presence that NoComply do. While their musical styles are still quite different, with the right push there should be no problem converting a few fans to some fantastic homegrown talent. Big things are not far away. (9)

I was a bit unsure whether HOWARDS ALIAS could actually follow that sterling performance, but not for the first time I was wrong. Frontman Matt is a real character and a brilliant songwriter, with as much stage presence as his NC counterpart. With new songs aired that sound as good, if not better, than tracks from their awesome ‘The Chameleon Script’ album, Howards Alias are really onto a winner. Infact how they’re not better known really does remain a mystery. For a four-piece they really make a racket and ‘Head-Up’ and ‘The Temptress Tales’ are sung back with vigour. ‘Song For A Friend’ is a tale of lost friendships which highlights just how good a band HA are, but it’s the finale of ‘Rob Wants You Dead’ that gets the 10 or so of us at the front dancing and singing along. They were good at PB3, they were fucking awesome tonight. (9)