Live Music + Gig Reviews

Kubb @ Barfly, London

17 August 2005

Kubb have lately set up second home at the Barfly. At least it would seem that way – they last played here… last week. Which is odd, as this band’s material would be at home just about anywhere other than at this cramped, hot and blacked out little attic.

A more usual Barfly offering came from support act Field Music, the latest in the conveyor belt of quirky offerings from the north east. Attempting to follow in the successful footsteps of their better known neighbours Maximo Park, the three-piece featured the neat trick of swapping guitarist with drummer and back again as both sang, adding a visual element that wasn’t obvious on their debut eponymous album. The first band member to take to guitar looked for all the world like Ron Howard in his Happy Days actor guise, while his alternative number could have passed as Paul Weller‘s younger brother.

But their music, certainly quirky, borders on the deliberately awkward. While their performance was never less than competent and intricate, crescendos half way through songs and odd, out of place riffs at what should have been memorable moments suggested songwriting that set out to take a difficult option just to throw anyone who felt like singing along. Lead single You Can Decide was memorable as one of the relatively straightforward pieces from the album, and the set was rousingly short, but these boys will have left much of the audience nonplussed rather than screaming for more.

The same was decidedly not true of Kubb. Front man Harry Collier was from the off simply too big for this cramped space. A bass-wielding collosus with a powerful pair of lungs, he was more caged animal than rocker. He’s likely a sound man’s nightmare too – he can whisper sweet nothings and belt out huge notes all in one song, and at one point he played acoustic guitar while his bass dangled to his side. Not just a pretty face then.

And yet plainly he and his minders are aware of his charisma. His trendy white shirt was opened just the right amount to suggest but not expose. This was ideal for an audience at least half of whom were immaculately presented – and easy on the eye – young ladies. How often can one say that about a Barfly gig? They weren’t here to sing along, for Kubb’s debut album Mother isn’t out for another couple of months. Nobody quite knew the songs – yet. So could it be they were happy to oggle at Harry? Perhaps.

Shallow reasons for liking bands aside, Kubb do have a smattering of rather fine songs – but the best were held till the end, for their current set could not be accused of peaking early. Somebody Else, which reputedly won them a record deal when they performed it on Later With Jools Holland, starts as a downbeat, jazz-influenced piece and then lets rip with an extraordinary and exhilirating chorus. It’s a dead cert to be rereleased once everybody has heard of the band a la debuts from Kaiser Chiefs et al. Alongside this epic, current single Remain was merely catchy radio fluff – but even it could show Field Music a thing or two about writing a memorable riff. I found myself imagining some of these tunes remixed into trance tracks and sent packing to Ibiza. Harry could sing them to young couples marrying on beaches.

This gig felt like everyone had been let in on a secret – Kubb won’t be playing venues of this size for very much longer. Catch them while you can.

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More on Kubb
Kubb – Mother
Kubb @ Barfly, London