“Are you ready for the match, Nottingham?” Charlie Steen asks, as he hangs on to the rafters with one hand, sweat clinging to his brow. It’s true, too - shame approach their live shows with physical exertion. There’s a real sense that they’re performing, in the sense that champion sprinters do, or an Olympic rowing team. All of the cogs in the machine grinding in perfect unison. Louis Griffin on shame's spectacle of musical athleticism. If they’re sprinters, then this is their victory lap: a run of three sold out shows to promote the deluxe version of their album Drunk Tank Pink, which has found itself on many album of the year lists over the past few weeks. The band are at the end of a long slog of touring the record, which has continued pretty much uninterrupted from festival season to now. Indeed, the last time I saw them was headlining Wide Awake Festival in Brixton. They played a triumphant homecoming set in Brockwell Park, a park they used to play in as kids.
But tonight is a very different proposition, intimate enough to see the sweat on Steen’s forehead. The band look perhaps a little worn down by their time on the road - tight as ever, they nonetheless have the feeling of being on the home strait, pushing through to the end. The set kicks off with ‘Alphabet’, the opener from Drunk Tank Pink. It’s a slab of unrelenting bass, adorned with the new wave guitars that define the record. It’s a testament to the band that the new tracks never feel complex for the sake of it; they pull off sonic acrobatics throughout the night, but never once feel contrived. ‘6/1’ is where the set really kicks off, though. Rough Trade is a room where “intimate” feels like an understatement; when bodies start colliding, you really feel it. They follow it up with new track ‘This Side Of The Sun’, and it’s hard not to read what Steen’s saying as a comment on the band’s life on the road: “I give myself away every day, to everyone I meet […] you tear yourself apart for your art, and wonder why you can’t sleep”. It’s true that the band, and particularly Charlie, leave nothing on the sidelines. The almost uncomfortable honesty of ‘Born In Luton’ and ‘Snow Day’ is the album’s greatest strength – both are unflinching looks at what happens when your mental health begins to crack, and as the crowd sings every word back to the band, there’s a palpable feeling of communion.
"It’s a gamble, ending the set with a track that would feel more suited to a wake"
The set finishes with ‘Station Wagon’, the album’s closing track, and in many ways its defining statement. “Like Atlas, I shall carry the weight of the sky on my shoulders” Steen intones, to a rapt audience, like a magician explaining how the trick is done. It’s a gamble, ending the set with a track that would feel more suited to a wake. But the band’s self-belief is enough to keep the entire room at their fingertips. It feels like Charlie looks you directly in the eye, as he says: “with you as my witness, I'm gonna try and achieve the unachievable”. For a brief moment in that room, it felt like he did.
Edited by: Joe Hughes
Featured image courtesy of shame via Facebook.