From the Sex Pistols’ infamous scene-starting show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall to the 2009 V Festival slot that would become Oasis’ final ever performance, history has a tendency of loading some gigs with a whole heap of retrospective gravitas. What seems like just a good night out can wind up, 10 years down the line, as your inadvertent “I was there” moment. Rare is the gig, however, that makes its importance blisteringly clear for all to see right then and there. But then rare are the band with the sheer ferocious vitality of Shame.
Since the release of debut ‘Songs of Praise’ back in January, the South London quintet have been on a hurtling upwards trajectory. Five star reviews; magazine covers; broadsheet praise: though the record only landed in the lower end of the Top 40 upon its arrival, there’s been a palpable sense of something growing ever since. Having ended 2017 still regularly stomping around Brixton Windmill, you feel, if they wanted to, they could probably end 2018 by headlining Brixton
Academy. Sure, they’re not going to be challenging The 1975 for record sales any time soon, but for a young, angry, politicised guitar band, they’re straddling the line between critical plaudits and genuine grassroots fan fervour better than anyone in a good while.
And so we enter Camden’s Electric Ballroom – an uncharacteristic foray across the river, as the band quickly point out – for Shame’s first hometown victory lap since unleashing said debut. Sold out months in advance, tonight is undeniably ‘the hot ticket’; before the quintet even enter, there’s the tangible sense in the room that we’re about to witness A Proper Moment. And holy hell, do they deliver.
If singer Charlie Steen has always harnessed the chaotic magnetism of a true frontman – a curious, grubby, disgusting, alluring mix of rallying vigour and sneering disdain, throwing his entire physicality into every moment with vein-popping intensity – then tonight he finally looks the part too. Decked out in a white boiler suit and sunglasses with a newly shaved crop, he’s like the wild-eyed protagonist in a Hunter S. Thomson hell-scape, aggressively spitting out the tumult of ‘Lampoon’ one minute and lasciviously rubbing spit into his chest during the grotesque prowl of ‘Gold Hole’ the next.
If its a turn that could easily overshadow lesser bandmates, then here there’s no such worries. While bassist Josh Finnerty is a visual scene-stealer, throwing himself around the stage with so much fervour he requires a roadie to essentially follow him around untangling wires for the entire set, it’s guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith who’s the quiet star. Interjecting the sarcastic snarl of ‘One Rizla’ with a ringing guitar line that soars into the venue’s rafters and propelling ‘Friction’ into anthemic territory, he’s the sweeter, melodic foil that offsets his bandmate’s grottier underbelly with brilliance.
Serving up just the one (very promising) newie, tonight is of course a celebration of ‘Songs Of Praise’ and the gathered congregation devour the record like its already a classic. In every song there are spikes that unite the crowd in hollering, moshing union – from the drawled opening of ‘The Lick’ to the barked “Go!”s of ‘Donk’, while six months of relentless touring have turned Shame into an absolutely fearsome live force, hurtling through a set that flies with the cathartic hedonism of near-collapse but is clearly very, very tight underneath it all.
In November they’ll return to take on Kentish Town’s Forum. Half a year in advance, it’s already edging towards selling out. You sense by the time that comes around, Shame will have already outgrown it just as they’re barely contained by Camden tonight. This isn’t just buzz, this is the real fucking deal.
Photos: Ellen Offredy / DIY