Charlie Steen stands with his mic stand hoisted across his shoulders, his left index finger rummaging around in his belly button before transporting its findings to his mouth. It’s only the third song of Shame’s set, but already his chest is heaving in-out, in-out, lungs gasping for air. The south London mob always go hard at their gigs - they’ve built a whole reputation on it - but tonight they’ve special reason to give it even more.
Baby’s All Right is bustling for what is the band’s first show of their debut US headline tour. Although the crowd are a little stoic at first, they soon get in the spirit of things, Charlie constantly enticing them to come closer, like a devil on everyone’s collective shoulder. The band set a strong example on the latter front as bassist Josh Finerty sends Charlie flying into the crowd during the satirical snarls of ‘The Lick’. He recovers from the surprise tumble well, using it as an opportunity to prowl through the audience, borrowing their baseball caps and stroking their faces as he goes.
Musically, Shame are less of a face-stroke and more a good, firm prod to the ribs. ‘Concrete’ builds from whispers to barks while ‘Tasteless’ is wiry, tightly coiled and subtly menacing. Things get rowdier as Charlie introduces a “dance song” that sounds like a faster, grubbier ‘Kinky Afro’, and later cajoles the crowd further as he drawls an acknowledgement that “we cosmopolitans don’t enjoy moving much” ahead of the pell-mell riffs of ‘Lampoon’, which spool out of Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green’s guitars with increasingly precarious speed. Charlie, meanwhile, returns to his position of staring out the audience, this time with his arms outstretched like a messianic conductor of commotion.
It’s all too soon that he announces the final song of the night, but, despite a short set, Shame only needed a fraction of their time on stage to prove their own lyrics wrong. “I’m not much to look at / I ain’t much to hear” goes ‘One Rizla’. New York would beg to differ.
Photos: Joyce Lee