By John Curley
The Subways’ concert at The Studio at Webster Hall in New York City on Saturday, April 16th was their first full NYC show in almost eight years. It was well worth the wait. The crowd was quite raucous, and they welcomed The Subways back to America with open arms. Singer/guitarist Billy Lunn commented from the stage at how the band was taken aback by the energy and the volume of the crowd.
The night of music in Manhattan started with a 30-minute set by the American alt-rock band Born Cages. The band is comprised of Vlad Holiday (lead vocals and guitar), Matt Maroulakos (bass and keyboards), and David Tantao (drums). Born Cages’ sound could be described as a heavier version of ‘80s bands like Big Country and The Alarm. Holiday uses a call-and-response vocal style to get the crowd involved, and their songs are somewhat anthemic. They were quite good, and even got some members of the crowd to pogo during their set. The audience’s response to them was very positive.
The second band to perform on the night were the Manchester, England-based, all-female quintet PINS. They were terrific. Their sound is heavy rock/power pop with sweet-sounding vocals, heavy guitars and bass, and pounding drums. Their lead vocalist, Faith Holgate, has an interesting guitar-playing style that is somewhat reminiscent of Wilko Johnson. It was visually arresting to watch her stalk the stage with her guitar when she wasn’t required to be in front of the microphone to sing. The stage at The Studio at Webster Hall is somewhat cramped, so it would be nice to see PINS in a larger performance area to witness Holgate do her thing in a bigger space. In addition to Holgate on lead vocals and guitar, PINS include Lois McDonald (guitar and backing vocals), Anna Donigan (bass and backing vocals), Sophie Galpin (drums and backing vocals), and Kyoko Swan (keyboard, tambourine, guitar, and backing vocalist). PINS’ 35-minute set included “Trouble,” a song that Holgate told the audience had been released that same day for Record Store Day.
Despite the intimacy of the venue, the roar that greeted The Subways when they hit the stage was eardrum-shattering. It was if the audience was welcoming back long-lost friends with all of the gusto that they could muster. And the band did not take that energy from the crowd for granted. They seemed to feed off it, and gave a fun, explosive, and quite memorable performance. In addition to Lunn, The Subways feature Lunn’s brother, Josh Morgan, on drums and Charlotte Cooper on bass and vocals. Cooper is a huge asset to the band. Her energy onstage matches of that of Lunn and Morgan, and her soothing vocals serve as a nice contrast to Lunn’s sometimes throat-shredding singing. The chemistry between the three members of The Subways serves them well to set them apart from other heavy rock bands.
The Subways’ opening song, “Kalifornia,” set the tone for the rest of their set. Many in the crowd were pogoing quite aggressively as Cooper bounded around the stage like Angus Young, bobbing her head back and forth in time with the music. The Subways’ 75-minute set never let up from there. Lunn played an acoustic guitar for “Mary” as many in the audience sang along. Lunn and Cooper jumped up and down for most of the performance of “Shake! Shake!” The crowd sang the chorus during “Oh Yeah” while Morgan pounded his kit as if his life depended on it. “Dirty Muddy Paws” was extremely heavy duty, and the audience loved it.
Some of the finest moments of The Subways’ shows are when Lunn and Cooper share the lead vocal. And their performances of “Taking All The Blame” and “Popdeath” were perfect examples of that. And when the band starts a song in a somewhat slow pace and builds until it explodes in a powerful climax, the crowd goes crazy. And that was the case with the performance of “I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say,” which built to the point where Lunn and Cooper were thrashing around the stage as Morgan pounded his drums.
The remainder of the set was quite exceptional. Cooper’s vocal shined through the heavy guitar, bass, and drums of “Good Times.” The bass-heavy “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” saw Cooper thrashing around the stage maniacally. The very effective “1 AM” had Lunn and Cooper trading off on lead vocals. “Girls & Boys” was fantastic and one of the highlights of the show. It had the crowd singing along very loudly.
Lunn gave a lengthy introduction to “We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time,” telling the crowd that the title for the song had come from his best friend who had lost his job but had said those words to Lunn after a fun night out with Lunn and other friends. The performance of the song was absolutely incendiary The pounding drums, grinding guitar, and throbbing bass had many in the crowd pogoing like mad. The floor in the venue was shaking quite a bit.
“Celebrity” provided a fun moment in the show in which Lunn requested that the crowd sit on the floor for the quiet bit of the song. When the song got heavy again, the crowd popped up to their feet like a room full of jack in the boxes. The next song, “With You,” also started out light and then became heavy. And “Black Letter” featured great vocal interplay between Lunn and Cooper.
Prior to the performance of “It’s A Party,” Lunn apologized to the crowd for not having played live in America for so long. When the band tore into the song, Cooper thrashed around onstage as Lunn jumped into the audience and crowd surfed for a bit. That drove the crowd into a frenzy.
The show came to a close with a rip-roaring performance of The Subways’ signature tune, “Rock & Roll Queen.” Before the song was performed, Cooper thanked the crowd and said that she could not believe that it had been eight years since the band had performed in America. The audience started singing along to the song as soon as Lunn played the opening chords. When the heavy bit of the song kicked in, many in the crowd were pogoing very intensely. The floor shook again. And Lunn briefly crowd surfed again. When the song ended, Lunn promised the crowd that it wouldn’t be another eight years before The Subways returned to America. He and Cooper then thanked the crowd again, and the band left the stage to a thunderous ovation.
The Subways’ North American tour, which is in support of their self-titled fourth album and will include support from PINS on all dates, runs until May 3rd with the final show at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. Full tour dates can be found at http://www.thesubways.net/.
The Subways’ set list was as follows:
Dirty Muddy Paws
Taking All The Blame
I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Girls & Boys
We Don’t Need No Money To Have A Good Time
It’s A Party
Rock & Roll Queen