It’s the coldest February night on record. If it isn’t, then it certainly feels like it. On the outskirts of London, temperatures have dropped to -4° and even in the city, it’s reached an unwelcoming freezing point. Outside Student Central (formerly ULU), the gathering crowd appears fidgety, but not enough to dampen any sense of pending excitement. That said, a young man audibly claims there’s “about forty seconds until doors open”, so he’s obviously found himself on the wrong side of comfortable with the weather.
Luckily, once inside, things are much warmer. The gig area for Student Central is a no frills square room with a stage and tonight, a crowd for the Marmozets has packed it to the rafters. The band have previously played the main stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and are scheduled to appear at the 2018 Download Festival, so this opportunity to catch them in a somewhat intimate setting is very welcome…and something about the band’s upward trajectory in popularity recently suggests this might even be one of the last times we’re able to do so.
First up, though, are supporting artists Queen Zee, a rare example of a band who’ve been invited on tour with an audience in mind and are not just cheap filler. The band play approximately half an hour’s worth of very fiery rock, blending alternative rock and punk with ease. A couple of numbers come across as a punkier take on early Placebo and as such really make an impression with sections of the already swelling crowd. Their set closer, ‘Fly The Pink Flag’ melds heavy guitar riffs with a punk attitude and frontperson Queen Zee very much uses the stage to tackle themes of homophobia, racism and transphobia…and how the music scene needs to be more tolerant. We’re very much in support of the band’s aims, issues and politics and it seems that a good chunk of the other Marmozets’ fans are too. We can only make the world a more tolerant place if we all band together. The end of a great set is given extra anger by a growling second vocal courtesy of Becca MacIntyre, which really fires up the audience for the night’s main feature.
Marmozets are clearly very proud of their second long player ‘Knowing What You Know Now’ and open their set wih ‘New Religion’, a track that’s only been part of fan collective consciousness for a couple of weeks. Despite the relative unfamiliarity, it goes down very well with its mood enhanced by heavy red lighting. Another new track ,the incredibly choppy ‘Habits’ increases the tension, but it isn’t really until the opening bars of the far more familiar ‘Is It Horrible’ that things start to genuinely kick in. At this point, the front rows spring to life; the sound mix is improved and the twin guitar assault of Sam MacIntyre and Jack Bottomley gains a particularly beefy edge, something reinforced by the Kyuss-ish closing bars of ‘Particle’, delivering a ferocious riff. There’s a feeling here that this riff could have been extended for the live set and been a genuine highlight. It’s great already, but such a great riff and tone surely deserved more of an outing!
An album favourite ‘Weird & Wonderful’ seems a little chaotic in places, but it all enhances the very live feel of the evening, while the classic ‘Move, Shake, Hide’ packs in all of the Marmozets’ traits into approximately four minutes. On record, this distictive mix of metal, math rock and almost rockabilly drumming is hugely entertaining; watching the band interact on stage it not only has more clout but also seems very natural for something crossing so many musical boundaries…and Josh MacIntyre’s drum sound is immense. It’s definitely been a set highlight.
Recent single ‘Play’ retains a great punch, by which time Becca’s voice and general presence has really warmed up and – another high point – popular single ‘Born Young & Free’ unleashes both a world of vocal furies from the stage and crowd surfers from within the audience – one of whom has devastating long legs; it wouldn’t be good to be on the receiving end of those… In a return to heavier sounds, the still wet behind the ears ‘Suffocation’ brings a few moments that sound like a truck. While the alt-rock and punky edges of tunes like ‘Born’ represent the signature Marmozets sound (if there is such a thing), these heavy riffs are very welcome indeed, and especially during the live show (particularly one that doesn’t include the brilliant and immense ‘Vibetech’).
The spiky alt-rock of ‘Lost In Translation’ sounds much better live. When shorn of studio trickery and vocal filters it allows Becca ample opportunity to really engage with the audience, but by the time the slower ‘Run With The Rhythm’ appears, it’s a little more obvious that this evening has taken a toll on the finer points of her voice. Even so, the run of tracks that finish the evening are tackled with nothing less than full commitment and ‘Why Do You Hate Me’ unleashes another bout of surfing – including a stray shoe – while ‘Major System Error’ is by turns angry and quirky (another example of how the bulk of ‘Knowing…’ seems more natural in front of an audience) and ‘Captivate You’ finds a good chunk of the crowd on each other’s shoulders at band instigation/security fear.
Watching the band from near the back of the venue, some of the finer details of the Marmozets’ visual aspects are lost, but it gives a good vantage point to watch the packed crowd. It seems that from at least the mid point of this evening, almost everyone is enraptured with seeing such a full-on set in such a small environ [except perhaps the man behind us who seems to think the everyday chit-chat with his girlfriend can’t wait until they get home. Seriously, beardy, shut the hell up. Nobody came to hear you talk. Probably not even that woman whose ear you’re constantly bending.]
While the performance does have a few wobbles, it’s a set that presents fantastic value. For seventy minutes, there’s no sense of playing for time. Marmozets have just over two albums worth of material, but in terms of music versus banter, they play a tighter set than some bands with four times as much material at their disposal. The most over-riding feeling by the close of the set, though, is the feeling of love. Not only the love that most of the fans have for Marmozets and the love Marmozets give back, but the love within the band, pouring from the family unit between each other. Drummer Josh has a beaming grin; guitarist Sam gives Becca a huge hug and tells everyone that she keeps him motivated and he loves her. While this might seem sappy to those who aren’t here in the moment, it’s actually really touching.
Finishing a particularly sweaty set, Marmozets give the feeling they mightn’t necessarily have longevity – at least not without lightening up considerably to save themselves burning out – but tonight, when they’ve hit the mark, they hit it with amazing results. It’s been terrific to see them at ULU, especially since the release of ‘Knowing What You Know Now’ could mark a transition from cult band to bigger things and bigger venues.