Pale Angels, The Flatliners
Dingwalls, Camden – 21.04
I’d never been to Dingwalls before and didn’t know what to expect – other than “a 500-capacity venue in the heart of Camden” that has “seen the likes of Mumford & Sons, Foo Fighters and Coldplay perform.” And when we saunter in, that’s exactly what we get. Only this time U.S./Welsh punks Pale Angels are on stage, blasting their way through a non-stop set of off-kilter grungy rock ‘n roll.
The first thing that strikes me, other than U.S. guitarist and co-frontman Mike Santostefano’s striking vocal resemblance to Kurt Cobain, is the fact that they’ve got two drummers. Well, 1.5… really. There’s the regular guy, on a conventional drum set up. And then there’s the drumming equivalent of backseat driver, whose sat right next to him, bashing away on his own set of toms and cymbals.
As a drummer, it’s unsettling watching the conventional guy look over his shoulder, like, “Come on dude, keep up.” While the backup percussionist watches the conventional drummer, like, “Dude, what are you hitting next?” I’m not sure what the situation is; did an older drummer rejoin the band and they didn’t want to kick out his newer, better replacement? Or was he a Make-A-Wish kid whose one dream was to co-drum for Pale Angels at Dingwalls?
Other than that, the most striking thing about the band is gangly bassist Jamie Morrison’s intense stage performance and killer fuzz – at times it sounds like he’s on lead bass. And suddenly, without a word, the band kicks out of Santostefano’s slower, garagey blues, as Morrison takes the lead on blistering punk rock stinger “Ditch Digger.”
The song sounds more like Morrison’s other band The Arteries, and it’s a welcome lift. The weird thing is the two co-frontmen don’t seem to sing much on each other’s songs.
When Morrison’s done the band slips back a couple of gears and we head to the bar. At one point I thought it sounded like they were off on a weird Doors jam without keyboards.
Canadian headliners The Flatliners have got to be one of the hardest-working bands in punk rock. Without even meaning to I’ve seen them six times – they even seem to be in London more than Against Me!. Last time I saw them, however, it was a letdown that left a lingeringly sour taste in my mouth. And things don’t start well.
Frontman Chris Cresswell’s guitar isn’t working on first song “Birds of England.” Rolling with the punches the band kicks into “Sew My Mouth Shut,” which sounds fierce – love that song. Then I catch a glimpse of drummer Paul Ramirez, who looks like a stoned Yoda behind his kit – his eyes look higher than his cymbals.
Last time I saw The Flatliners they played the O2 Academy Islington, supporting Lagwagon. And the sound exposed how softly Ramirez seems to hit his kit. I found it hard to get into that show. It also didn’t help that he was followed by Lagwagon’s Dave Raun.
This time, same thing. Only if you don’t look directly at him he sounds fine. Better than fine, in fact – the dude’s a shredder. But the way he brushes his cymbals like he’s doing the dusting is such a turn-off. I grab a vantage point where I can’t see his face directly and get swept up – he’s like a reverse Medusa.
A few songs in the crowd gets caught up as well, fist-pumping to “July! August! Reno!” and singing along to hits like “Monumental” and “Resuscitation of the Year.” And finally, “Eulogy,” which is followed by a defiant-sounding rendition of “Christ Punchers” and a crowd-pleasing encore of “Count Your Bruises” – what a song to have on standby. We leave Dingwalls on a high.