Things expand in heat. This might explain the colossus of sound bowing the walls six feet into the street from the tiny stage. The Barfly is small and Gratitude are grand. In every imaginable way.
For the past two months they have been playing riotous shows to a crowd of 2,000 barrier hugging onlookers as special guests of Funeral for a Friend. Treated like visiting Emo emperors, the mild mannered men from San Francisco have grown accustomed to coliseums and riders of fine wine and grapes. Probably. Either way, they are not about to downsize for the stinking holes of Camden. A lot has to be said, sung, screamed. And the emotion pours out like a continuous crescendo of free flowing, erupting metaphors and prose from a pounded typewriter with no key for the full stop.
With such weighty vocals, there is no need for heavy guitar riffs. Instead a thick fuzz of ringing chords and bouncy bass provide a springboard for the chest pounding melodies. The single Drive Away is as far away as possible from a quirky country road trip in a battered mini. It’s more like a fleet of tanks, albeit driven by sensitive souls. And essentially, that’s what Gratitude are. Veterans of countless bands, they’ve got the battle scars and rolled with the punches. Rather than wig out or mellow out, these wily Americans appreciate how great pop can be as equally satisfying as offloading pain. They may have had the odd heart or bone broken, but they still have the sense that music is, above all else, fun.
Every song has the crowd happily craning clammy necks to cheer along and clap the sweat off their hands. And Gratitude love a good crowd. There is a brief mention of recent atrocities and a big bear hug of praise about how great we all are. Clearly amazed as much by British stoicism as our hedonistic, don’t-give-a-flying-stage-dive passion for gigs, they leave the politics out of it. “We want to show our appreciation the only way we can, by singing and dancing and having a good time.”
It’s amazing that they aren’t carried off in stretchers, such is the unrelenting commitment to entertainment. Before we get a chance to check their pulses they are busy building another amphitheatre-sized chorus. They are like the Rocky of rock. A whole album of tunes played with hands-aloft optimism in the face of adversity will even have the euphoric dance music makers thinking like Dolf Londrum (he’s not human, he like a machine). And Clubber Lang might have said “I have one word for you Balboa. Pain,” but Gratitude would have answered him with 20 songs.
All empires crumble but this isn’t Rome and Gratitude have been around for more than a day. Somewhere in the stratosphere they are still busy laying the foundations.