LIVE: Tiger Army @ Club Academy, Manchester

By Tom Walsh

It’s been three long years since Tiger Army last visited these shores. Pioneers among the punkabilly genre, today the band that ‘never dies’ is a refined beast spinning yarns of country music and old fashioned rock and roll.

The brainchild of Bay Area punk scene stalwart Nick 13, the modern day Tiger Army stems from the front man’s obsession with the work of 1940s and 50s luminaries such as Hank Williams, Garth Brooks and Elvis Presley. A cursory glance at 13’s Instagram feed and it is a sea of diners, tiki bars and the wide open roads that paint that archetypal picture of classic Americana.

However, among the crooning ballads, Tiger Army still have that unique venom that make them one of the trailblazers of such a niche genre. 13 has that signature howl and lilting vocal range that allow seamless transitions between riotous punk songs and the kind of song you’d hear playing in the lounge bar of a Raquel Welch film.

Armed with a handful of Pomade, an exceedingly tight pink shirt and a spotlessly white Gretsch guitar, Tiger Army stride out on stage. The opener of ‘Prelude: Tercio de Muerte’ is a surf rock instrumental that wouldn’t feel out of place in the early work of Quentin Tarantino, while we first hear that 13 howl on relatively new track ‘Beyond The Veil’.

Unlike previous Tiger Army sets, this evening doesn’t rely on newer material and it is a pleasant stroll through the band’s extensive back catalogue. There is a treat for the long-time fans with an airing of the delicious fast-paced rockabilly track, ‘Cupid’s Victim’. 13’s intricate guitar work is matched by the rumbling slap of the upright bass by Djordje Stijepovic.

Given 13’s vocal range, Tiger Army shows switch between grimy punk in a sweaty basement to the refinery of a lounge act playing through the haze of cigar smoke and brandy glasses. The wonderfully swaying ballad of ‘Dark and Lonely Night’ sits alongside the 50s-inspired ‘Prisoner of the Night’ which, in turn, compliments the iconic ‘Pain’.

However, underneath the country aesthetics, 13 has a punk heart and happily reminds us of a time when Tiger Army would be on the bill with Dropkick Murphys and AFI. Airing the anthemic ‘Never Die’ and the defiant ‘F.T.W’, prior to which 13 concedes that “the world is pretty fucked up right now,” it’s a vintage performance from the California trio.

The overall sound of the band may have softened in the years gone by but there are two things that remain – Nick 13 is the only man to make a soul patch look cool and, more importantly, Tiger Army never die.