LIVE: Those Damn Crows @ O2 Forum, Kentish Town

By Katherine Allvey

Those Damn Crows, welsh rockers who add a twist of Black Stone Cherry to their cocktail of vintage interpretation, faced two challenges before they even got a chance to go on stage. Firstly, the crowd was static and had no desire to dance at all. Maybe it was because the vast majority appeared to have come to the Forum straight after finishing work – laptop bags and short sleeves rolled up to display illicit tattoos abounded – or maybe it was because the average audience member remembered the eighties scene from first-hand experience. While, of course, it’s reasonable to show appreciation or lack thereof for music in any number of ways, the lack of response was at odds with the excellence of the sound that Those Damn Crows produced. Their second challenge was the one faced by so many of us after a trip to Ikea: the stage furniture just didn’t fit in the space. Shane Greenhall and friends had a two metre strip of stage to move around in, the rest being dominated by a huge drum setup and catwalk. Despite being crammed into the stage like tigers in an unethical zoo, they managed to make one hell of a rock show. 

It takes four songs for their engine to warm up though. Of course, Greenhall’s wail on opener ‘Who Did It?’ is magnificent, taking on a life of its own amid the rope-like volcanic plumes of smoke, and Ian Thomas’ solo on ‘Send The Reaper’, the first of many of the night, feels like a screeching eagle above a bass stampede, but it takes until ‘Find A Way’ for Those Damn Crows to really find their stride. As soon as the gathering storm of the buildup breaks, there is a palpable change of energy as if suddenly they’ve woken up to realise they are onstage with an image of a flaming carousel behind them and crowd in front ready to give voice to their hopes for the night. The monstrous roar in each line bounces between the sci-fi, Pearl Jam chugging from the guitar and we’re richer for experiencing the full force of their music. The earth moves beneath us and our minds drift heavenwards towards the epic lilac intimacy of ‘Lay It All On Me’. Slices of guitar divide the warmth and closeness from the vast scale of what Those Damn Crows create. They use the same tactic in the urgent ‘Sin On Skin’, snapping in between the personal and colossal with the same ease that they switch between softly accented speaking voices and ferocious howls. 

“I have a funny feeling that for fifteen or twenty years, we’ll be singing this fucking song,” laughs Greenhall before launching into ‘Rock n Roll Ain’t Dead’. He runs up to the circle mid song,  two frantically trotting crew members at his heels, one with a torch pointed ahead so the frontman doesn’t fall. Normally this would be a big, crowd-pleasing song, and based on the looks of mild interest and polite clapping people seem at least amused by his antics. ‘This Time I’m Ready’ is a crash mat to support the realisation that this show is coming to an end, inflated with endless bass and the barest touches of reassuring piano. It’s a ‘pretty special song for us’ according to Greenhall and by stopping short of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ excess, they make the song both lush and sparse at the same time. Swirls of rhythm wash away our pain and desperate backing vocals reach out across space and time to reassure. 

Halfway through ‘This Time I’m Ready’, bassist Lloyd Wood and rhythm guitarist David Winchurch stop playing for a moment and perch on the side of the unused catwalk dominating the stage. They look at each other, look at the crowd in front of them, look back at each other and grin. This show at the Forum is the last UK date of their tour and one of the biggest that they’ve played. In spite of an audience about as lively as mannequins, Those Damn Crows have taken control of their mustang of a sound and cemented their reputation as up-and-coming rockers-to-watch, and with an efficient show that’s solid old school rock they’ve got something damn special to share with the world.