LIVE: Lonely The Brave / I Am Giant @ Dingwalls, London

By Rob Barbour

‘Life-affirming’. That’s the way Tom Beck –¬†erstwhile proprietor of the late, under-rated Walnut Tree Records – described the song¬†‘Backroads’ by Cambridge (then-quartet)¬†Lonely the Brave when it was included on WTR’s 2009 compilation¬†‘Punktastic Unscene 5’.¬†It’s been a half a¬†decade in the making but, fuelled primarily by that very song, the band’s d√©but album¬†‘The Day’s War’¬†has sprinted into the Top 20¬†and it’s to a densely-packed Dingwalls that Lonely the Brave make their first London appearance as Proper Actual Rockstars. The crowd is at capacity and then some; the guest list appears to be the length of a Peter Jackson film script and the venue’s multi-level layout almost makes it appear as if the crowd are stacked on top of each other.

Granted the thankless task of playing first on a two-band bill supporting¬†a buzz band and therefore to a half-empty venue are London locals I Am Giant. In a hemispheric subversion of the “Big in Japan” clich√©, I Am Giant are a Gold-certified act in New Zealand where they regularly¬†play to rooms twice this size. If they feel as if they’re slumming it, though, it doesn’t show. Frontman Ed Martin comes on like a cockney Daryl Palumbo, throwing himself around the stage while demonstrating¬†an¬†impressive range; a range complemented by the tight harmonies of bassist Paul Matthews. ¬†I Am Giant’s¬†grinding riffs¬†might seem an odd fit for this evening, but their¬†frenetic energy provides the room with the jolt it needs to get the night going. It’s just a shame there aren’t more people around to hear.

By the time Lonely The Brave take the stage, silhouetted Nine Inch Nails-style against front-facing banks of lights, it feels as if Dingwalls itself has grown just by virtue of the heaving crowd. The band don’t really do “banter”, preferring instead to power through;¬†their shimmering, plaintive-yet-anthemic set interspersed infrequently by guitarist Mark Trotter’s sincere, shocked gratitude for what the band are achieving. Vocalist David Jakes performs the entire show in profile and only opens his mouth to sing. But what singing. It’s live that Lonely The Brave’s darkly uplifting songs really come to life and Jakes sings like every syllable is taking something from his soul.

This total immersion is awe-inspiring, but leads to an unfortunate lack of stage presence or¬†whenever the band aren’t playing. The intimacy of the club ensures a connection between band and audience, but songs the size of these beg to headline festivals yet there’s a slight sense of the band feeling like deer caught in the headlights of the mainstream.

The crowd don’t care, though. By the time the band soar through¬†‘Backroads’ – undoubtedly one of the best British rock songs of the last ten years – there are wall-to-wall fists in the air ¬†huge grins on faces and a hundreds-strong choir belting out the song’s closing hook of ‘I’ll be the sky and you be the bird’.¬†Life-affirming.