It’s sometime after 10.20pm and the downstairs of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire is completely rammed. There’s barely any room to move. It didn’t seem this busy when Carter USM‘s Jim Bob played his brilliant sold out show here just a week earlier, but that’s probably due to more people being in the balcony. The majority of people may be downstairs for this second London double headliner between The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin tonight, but that has the effect of adding plenty of atmosphere. Whatever the crowd logistics, it’s impressive the Stourbridge lads can still pull such a huge crowd on their second night in such a large venue.
t’s been an uneven experience at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight. Both Toseland and Bad Touch have offered enjoyable support slots, even if hampered a little by bad sound. Toseland, in particular, have shown they really know how to fill a half hour effectively, with frontman James Toseland coming across very jovially. He’s so likeable that it doesn’t matter or not whether you’re familiar with the material, you’ll have a good time regardless. The evening’s first credited headliner, Night Ranger, were largely awful: not so much classic Night Ranger of old as the Jack Blades Show with support from Kelly Keagy. Their set was ruined further by the worst sound we’ve encountered at a large venue for a number of years…if not ever.
This evening at Shepherds Bush Empire has been billed as a double headline show between Night Ranger and Skid Row. However, it isn’t long after Night Ranger take the stage, it becomes clear that the event is nothing of the sort. Night Ranger’s set design is limited to a few extra Marshall amplifiers which are placed in the middle of the stage, rather than at the back. Kelly Keagy’s drumkit looks awkward, placed on stage left (audience right) and facing towards the middle rather than facing the audience. The band, in turn, are only given about three quarters of the stage to work with. Somewhere behind the amps, Skid Row’s drum kit sits in wait. So much for “double headliner”: Night Ranger have been given a support band’s set up – and that’s before we get to the massive issues with their performance.
It’s approximately 9pm on a very cold December night. It’s freezing outside and also decidedly chilly inside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. The audience are shuffling around with a casual indifference. We’ve all just been bored to tears by the night’s support act, The Clientele, who appear to have played the same bland dreampop/indie tune ten or eleven times. Judging by the lack of atmosphere on stage and the rambling tunes punctuated by the occasional monosyllabic “thanks…”, the performers seemed just as as bored by their own music. [In retrospect, while they were devastatingly dull, it was easy to see why they were chosen. They weren’t the worst support act ever – that honour will forever be owned by Patrik Fitzgerald – they were just very boring.]
Saint Etienne are about to take the stage, though, so surely things are about to get much better. The minutes pass and a selection of kitschy tunes – almost certainly curated by Saint Et’s own pop historian Bob Stanley – fills time. As it happens, this is all more entertaining than The Clientele. and worthy of an easily accessible Spotify playlist. Saint Etienne founders, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, along with various other musicians, eventually saunter on stage at a rather casual 9:25, followed by vocalist Sarah Cracknell.
On November 21st, London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire played host to arguably one of the best and most energetic gigs of 2014 when various forty-somethings said goodbye to their youths and goodbye to Carter USM at the first of their two farewell shows. Barely a week and a half later, the atmosphere in the venue couldn’t be any further removed from that particular gig, when – on a particularly cold Tuesday night – a sparser crowd gather to see Canadian music collective The New Pornographers promoting their sixth release ‘Brill Bruisers’ with support from the relatively unknown Mini Mansions.