Last Tuesday, The Cribs played the O2 Academy, flanked by the band’s hand-picked tour supports, Cheatahs and Mazes. Cheatahs were of a much higher standard than the average opening support. They sounded like they might have listened to Daydream Nation a few too many times, but their noisy sound was perfectly executed, and they’d got some good songs under their belt. Mazes were also talented, with a slightly cleaner, more clinical sound than Cheatahs.
At half nine, the band of brothers came on stage to strains of ‘God Gave Rock & Roll to You’. According to one of the O2 staff, they hadn’t sold a huge number of tickets, and it felt like it – for the first five minutes of the set, I had an unholy amount of personal space. You shouldn’t have personal space at the front of a Cribs gig! As it turned out, I didn’t have anything to worry about – their fans are hardcore fans, and they soon caved in. My ribs duly ache this morning. The Cribs played as well as ever, ripping into their instruments, the twins revelling in their antiphonic early material, and the crowd contributing the wordless melodic chants at every opportunity.
The Cribs are best known for their frenetic, crowd-pleasing anthems, like ‘Men’s Needs’ and ‘Hey Scenesters!’. They played a huge number of these on Tuesday night, reviving old tunes like ‘Another Number’ and ‘Mirror Kissers’. Though these tracks get the crowd jumping, the highlights of Cribs’ live shows are their slower, more intense tracks. ‘Be Safe’ and new song ‘Back to the Bolthole’ are both brilliant live, as they proved in Oxford. On record, they have a touch of the dirge about them, but live, the absolute abandon of Ryan Jarman’s playing and the equivalent in Gary’s singing inject an almost superhuman significance into them. For ‘Be Safe’, the band project Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo onto their back screen, speaking the lyrics – it produces an audio-visual chaos which always leaves me awestruck.
Despite the fantastic performance, there was something not quite right at Tuesday’s gig. Ryan was talkative and friendly, but his twin seemed disinterested; the crowd started chanting Ryan’s name, and Gary’s reaction was to inform us that “The Cribs are a three-piece band”, without a hint of humour. Other than “thank you” at the end, this was all he said to the crowd all night, and beyond a metre-radius around Ryan’s mic, the stage was a no-smiling zone. Ryan was looking diminutive too, a few stone lighter than he was during the last tour, and together with the heavy noise-rock influence in their new tracks, it makes you wonder if they’re in a bad mental space at the moment. Perhaps this is an over-analysis; Gary’s moodiness and Ryan’s occasional puffs on an asthma inhaler didn’t stop the proceedings from being awesome. As Ryan put it, “This inhaler keeps me rocking”. And they certainly did rock.
PHOTO / alterna2