Live Music + Gig Reviews

Stretch Arm Strong + With Honor @ Barfly, London

18 January 2006

It is with chipped cymbals and Gaffa-taped straps that Connecticut hardcore crew With Honor (damn those Americanised spellings!) take to the Barfly’s stage and open with crowd favourite Like Trumpets.

The Mirror causes the first serious stir in crowd participation as the challenge of: “Could we be more than we are?!” rings across the venue with deafening sincerity.

To Believe and Rethink, Return provide more than ample opportunity for the dedicated members of the audience to try their hand at guest vocals, and closer Bridges And Gaps even sees the sparse audience chipping together for some amusing crowd-surfing action.

Bands pushing the brand of melody-infused hardcore that With Honor deal in may be a dime a dozen Stateside, but tonight England is rabidly appreciative of the fact that headliners Stretch Arm Strong have brought them to Europe for a fleeting visit.

Following a swift set change without so much as a roadie to be spied, the main attractions take to the stage with Worst Case Scenario. This is swiftly followed by new single The Hardest Part, which demonstrates perfectly the South Carolinans’ new found, more tuneful take on their hectic hardcore formula. Whilst some of the more active members of the audience find this less than ideal, the added sing-along elements give this evening’s strong female contingent a chance to represent themselves centre stage.

Hearts On Fire lets vocalist Chris Mclane demonstrate to all pretenders the difference between singing and whining out of key as he lays down a note-perfect and flawless rendition of this vocally dexterous tune.

Faces highlights the fact the there are numerous fans here who are not familiar with the material from Free At Last, or that they don’t “approve” of the band’s more melodic direction. Thankfully there are enough hardcore newcomers in the crowd who might not be pulling the coolest moves, but are certainly having the most fun!

Old school and new meet beautifully, however, with Outside Looking In, a beautiful moment in passionate audience participation which gives Chris a break as his faithful fans bark out the lyrics in jubilant unison.

We Bleed is preceded by a heartfelt speech from the Mr Mclane, centring on the hope that US troops will be brought home safe and sound as soon as they can. Despite the underlying cynicism murmuring through sections of the crowd, his sentiment is well-received, and fuels yet more melodic punk mayhem.

The Sound Of Names Dropping is executed this evening with bags more intensity than its somewhat lacklustre recorded counterpart, but acts as a mere prelude to the monumental explosion that is For The Record. Within the first blast of opening drum fills, the stage is already being invaded by marauding fans, all desperately eager to shout their little lungs out.

Surrounded by old friends and newcomers alike, tonight Stretch Arm Strong embraced this scaled-down headline show with the kind of dedication and commitment that, if there is any justice, will keep building their momentum.

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More on Stretch Arm Strong
Stretch Arm Strong + With Honor @ Barfly, London
Stretch Arm Strong – Free At Last