Getting far more than he bargained for, Getintothis’ Paul Higham sees Shellsuit prove that angry defiance doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the party.
Let’s be frank, this was as unexpected as it was euphoric.
Having played Wednesday Morning, Bootle Strand to death, we had a reasonable expectation of what to expect from Shellsuit.
Lilting harmonies disguising wryly acerbic lyrical barbs. A reimagined Simon and Garfunkel, layered thick with social consciousness and beautiful anger born of post-industrial urban decay and social deprivation; poised yet elegant social commentary.
Yet the moment they emerged to rapturous, almost cult-like reverence there was an edge in the air, an expectant tension, a Saturday night boisterousness. The air hung heavy with alcohol-fuelled exuberance; a braying audience seeking a good time, willing to be entertained.
What was delivered was something much more robust, more forceful and unabashedly strident. This was a performance of vibrant energy fusing elements of funk, dance beats, saxophones laid over waspish flights of guitars. In its urgent, freneticism coupled with their forthright political statements it recalled the likes of Gang of Four. Much like their forebears it wore its anger lightly, intently satisfying the party atmosphere.
The tone was set right form the start. Death or Bongo was driven by a relentless, intoxicatingly catchy groove that belied the message. Based around an old childhood joke, it offers a choice between two unfavourable outcomes. Much like the seemingly broken social contract of an increasingly fractured modern Britain, it’s a song laced with futility and false hope, full of desperate journeys down increasingly blind alleys.
What carries it is its party-tinged atmosphere. We might be getting fucked over, but we can still have a good time.
Iraqis in Shell Suits is equally banging. A frenzied riot as band and audience coalesce in a timely celebration of the merits of immigration and a joyously precious rail against bigoted prejudice. As front of house and stage match each other word for word, for a few brief moments all feels right in the world.
Throughout, front man, Ed Doherty possesses the stage cutting a shamanic and mesmeric presence. All action, like Richard O’Brien willing on the contestants in an episode of The Crystal Maze, he commands his crowd, stirring them up to ever heightened levels. And, boy, do they respond in spades.
Yet if there is a problem, that is perhaps its crux. At times it felt a bit too safe, too much of an easy win for a band playing to its core fanbase. The challenge will come when playing away from the creature comforts of home territiory. How will they rise to a more unforgiving and unfamiliar crowd?
On this showing Shellsuit will have little problem. The show seemed to race by in a matter of moments. Encores were forcefully demanded, staged battles with soundcrews seeking to impose the curfew were overcome. The show was an unlikely yet entirely welcome triumph.
Perhaps the band save their moments of mellow introspection for rainy Monday nights. Yet given a Saturday they prove equally capable of convincing that we can be defiant, strident and angry and all the while have a good time. The downtrodden masses, don’t bet on it.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Chris Flack.