LIVE: Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes @ The Roundhouse

By Katherine Allvey

It’s the last date of The Rattlesnakes’ tour, a hotly-demanded bonus night which sold out as quickly as the first did several months ago. However, since tickets were snapped up, the enigmatic Frank Carter and co have taken a new direction with latest release ‘Dark Rainbow’, prioritising piano laden emotional exploration ahead of the swaggering, twitching bangers that we’re used to hearing. As the seconds tick closer to stage time, it feels more and more like this change will be embraced by the Rattlesnakes (as the band’s fandom term themselves). Most of them have stuck with the band since Carter left Gallows, and a fair few have brought along their slightly bemused mums. Any bubbles of trepidation at the new sound pop almost unnoticed before the band even come onstage under the Roundhouse’s blood red spotlights.

Carter poses and smiles before the opening lonely organ signals the start of ‘Can I Take You Home’, then it’s straight down to business. He leans casually in his suit and red carnation, hair slicked back like spectre of proms past or a satire of a lounge singer. The synth that dominated ‘Brambles’ in their studio recordings is relegated to second place behind a reptilian heartbeat of a drum track and thundering prog guitar. ‘Self Love’ is now laden with underground rock tunnel energy, and the stomping buildup of ‘The Devil Inside Me’ feels like an incoming predator, creating a stormy pit while Carter flexes above like a ballet dancer. 

The frontman takes charge like a beloved teacher in front of an unruly class, dropping his singing voice to personally check in on members of the crowd. He sees a man’s hand on a woman’s shoulder at the barriers and asks if she’s comfortable with his touch mid-song. “Open up the mosh pits,” he orders before declaring the pit to be ‘ladies only’ so “the ladies can have a good time safely with no fear of any problems.” The cheers as ‘Kitty Sucker’ opens create an almost tangible lightening of the atmosphere. Carter refuses to carry on singing when a man jumps in to the gender-divided pit, and only resumes his thundering punk brightness once he’s left. “Happiest mosh pit I’ve ever seen in my life,” he grins as the last note fades, and he’s absolutely right. There’s a flowering of joy between the cast iron pillars which mark the edges of the pit. Carter’s constantly throwing monstrous silhouettes, lit from below by dark chopping axes of bass. There’s a clear reflection of Nick Cave in his performance, evident in how he talks to the crowd, his movements and even how he’s co-ordinated his outfit with his band’s, and his decision to unleash his inner goth prince results in stylish, sophisticated showmanship. 

There’s so much heart in the “new era of the Rattlesnakes,” as Carter calls it. Of course we get ‘My Town’, a pastel tinted unrelenting capture of the world outside followed by the moodier ‘Cupid’s Arrow’, with post punk guitar like a steamroller churning through grit, but, more importantly, we see more and more of the frontman’s vulnerability laid bare. “We wrote this song a long time ago and it’s more poignant than ever these days,” he calls, grimly. “Who knows who the fucking terrorist is?” As the as the slow gunpowder guitar of ‘Sun Bright Golden Happening’ floats across like smoke, his tattooed knuckles grip the mic even tighter and he pushes his wail to its limit. ‘Thunder’ is imbued with a soft, everyman tenderness, and the frontman dedicates ‘End of Suffering’ to his daughter. This has to be the standout three minutes of the evening, a musical oil painting, all waves and smudges of despair and dedication between dark country clicks and piano waves of haunted grain. Two middle aged men in the crowd hug, their swaying causing their watch faces to light up like fireflies. 

The ‘epilogue’, as it’s been retrospectively referred to online as opposed to an ‘encore’, is practically a statement of intent for the future of Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes. Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream appears to intone a verse of ‘Original Sin’ like a doomed preacher, grooving to his own beat before he erupts into the raucous collaboration we didn’t know we needed. “Don’t take this one personally,” warns Carter before ‘I Hate You’. Fists and phones shoot skyward, and we’re embracing stripped down rage karaoke with a smooth classic rock instrumental to cushion our venting. Rattlesnakes begin to stream from the dance floor as the band close with ‘Man of The Hour’, and it feels like the song is made to be exit music, as if they want to be remembered as soulful, open hitmakers rather than the rowdy gang they were at the start of their career.

Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes have opened both their hearts to us and the doors to new heights of their sound on this tour, and, to quote Carter himself, they’ve got “the same amount of venom, just more sexy.”