It seems that the teens are digging (up?) guitars again. Recently we’ve had the Irish ’60s R&B revivalists The Strypes, the garage punks The Orwells from Illinois and the grungy hardcore Radkey from Missouri all going back to basics and turning up the amps. Radkey have already released two well-received EPs in 2013, and with their debut album expected later this year they now headline their first tour of the UK as part of the NME Awards Show.
The band make an explosive start at the small basement of the Sebright Arms where their raw energy makes an immediate impact. Like The Cribs formed of three brothers, you can see Radkey’s close-knit relationship even before they go on stage as they sway together at the front of the sell-out crowd, watching the promising London support band Lyger give a short, raucous performance.
Big brother Dee Radke (now all of 20) may be the lead singer and lead guitarist but he seems too shy to be a natural front man, a curtain of dreadlocks screening his face much of the time. Yet he boasts an impressively dark-toned, mellifluous voice that almost sounds like crooning, a surprisingly effective contrast to the band’s metallic noise. It is the more mobile and outgoing bassist Isaiah who introduces the songs, while the youngest Solomon pummels his drum-kit so energetically he almost breaks a cymbal at one point.
The guys kick off with the pulsating Out Here In My Head and scarcely take a breath in a 40 minute-set that includes two new songs. The outstanding Cat & Mouse is a sheer adrenalin ride, with its blood-rushing lurches of rhythm and punky guitar chords, while Start Freaking Out whips itself into a wild frenzy and Romance Dawn builds up an unstoppable momentum. The only song that seems to make any mention of the band’s black cultural background, either musically or lyrically, is the anti-racist N.I.G.G.A. (Not Okay), which gets impassioned vocal support from the crowd.
The show is loud, fast and gutsy – just as it should be. Radkey may not be breaking any new ground with their music, but they are not simply following in other people’s tracks either. And even if their riff-heavy songs, with their rousing, sing-along choruses, lack variety in pace and tone, the band surely have plenty of time to develop their songwriting. Their future is all to play for.