Strung Out – Camden Underworld

By paul

Strung Out
Wednesday 31 March 2010
Underworld, Camden
Support: Random Hand + Vanilla Pod + The Human Project

You know that prototypical punk rock photo you get? The one with the shot of a singer, sweat spurting and glistening, the crowd open-mouthed, living every single moment of it. There?s a moment exactly like that tonight. Amidst a torrent of sweat, a festering pungent smell, and a swell of somewhere near 400 bodies, Californian stalwarts, Strung Out is laying waste to the Underworld. It?s quite the snapshot.

Before that though, as the bodies start filing through the doors, down the stairs and around the bar, THE HUMAN PROJECT is opening up proceedings with a set of technical punk rock cum post-hardcore. The Leeds quartet plays fast, intricate and energetic songs that feature tempo changes and breakdowns a plenty. It?s solid, intelligent and tough. Did I mention it?s fast as well? The early birds, not to mention tonight?s headliners, watch on with impressed interest.

VANILLA POD has been doing this whole gigging thing for almost as long as Strung Out. Whilst things have slowed down over the past few years, the King?s Lynn quintet still knows how to have a good time on stage. Tonight?s set is just about a 50/50 split of old material and songs from recent album, ?Poets on Payday? (the best to date?), all delivered with an exuberance belying age. Newbies ?Saturday Night? and ?4130? are as anthemic as the classic ?Surrounded By Idiots?. It?s buoyant, inexact melodic skater-punk like you don?t see nowadays. 15 years on and it?s still fun. What more would you ask for?

There?re a few confused faces as RANDOM HAND goes about the business of belting through a 30 minute set. It?s true the Yorkshire quartet?s brand of ska-punk-metal isn?t your typical Fat Wreck support but partially stripped down as it is (this tour marks the first with a new drummer and thus no sampler) it actually works well. Things seem to be a step quicker and given the condensed set time the band manages to pack a lot into a short period, including new offering, ?Start the Fans Please?. It?s going to be a quieter year for Random Hand (compared to the last few anyway) but tonight is a good reminder of how much hard work has been put in before now.

So to the headliner and a performance that is a little, well, odd. STRUNG OUT proves to be a bit of a two-forked road. Such is the apparent gung-ho approach that on one hand the sets comes across as shambolic genius and hearty punk showing, whereas on the other hand it seems to be too far off the rails, chaotic to the point of self-implosion. And it?s mostly down to singer, Jason Cruz, who looks pretty fucked from this vantage point. For much of the set Cruz recites from his knees, a small huddle on the stage. He?s just about as alienated as you can get, except, he leaps up and congregates with the crowd in front of the stage. There?re a couple of moments when he ushers punters on to the stage (one a ringer for Tom Petty) for some interaction that is a firm concoction of embarrassing and cringe-worthy. It?s all an existence somewhere between conceited and enigmatic. Well, that?s the shambolic side.

Musically, Strung Out is as thorough as you could hope for. Tight, fast and forceful is the name of the game, and we?re treated to 80 minutes of relentlessly rampaging guitars and drums. The crowd is whipped into fervour, a point sold by the sheer number of crowd-surfers and stage-divers (including more than a few that are painful enough to bring a grimace to the face of just about everybody in attendance). And despite his condition, Cruz is in decent vocal form. Off the beaten track he may be, but he?s perfect for the rough and the harmonious. That?s the hearty side of things.

Tonight?s setlist is a decent enough mix of old and new (if Paul or Mike had been reviewing this I?m pretty sure they could have given a track-by-track rundown) that?s rewarded with sing-alongs a plenty. Not just the older material but songs off ?Agents of the Underground? also. In fact, there?s actually quite a diverse demographic to the crowd, something that really isn?t expected.

Overall though it?s that split dichotomy that sticks with you after the show. There?ve been some real carry-away moments impressive to the bone, but then there?ve been those bumps in the road, stumbles that prove to be a trying test of patience. All in all it?s imperfectly balanced and executed. Some might say that in itself is punk rock.