Anna Lezard was less than impressed by the pungent stench of overdone teenage rebellion emanating from Thekla's stage when Chicago garage-punk band The Orwells took to Bristol's docklands. Let's just say, they didn't quite rock the boat...
When I was on my way to the Orwells gig, a friend who had seen them play in Glasgow texted me ‘Have fun! The lead singer is a dick’. I asked in what way, and he said ‘You’ll see.’ I enjoy their music well enough so I was poised to disagree, but I can’t. I did see. The word seems to fit the lead vocalist Mario Cuomo perfectly, though of course so do a few other synonyms I can think of. At first I thought it was just about personal preference – some people may have swooned at the constant emphatic swishing of his long straggly blond locks, but I couldn’t fault him on that alone. Maybe the cartoonish moody pout is a selling point for other people, but I didn’t get it.
The crowd, however, couldn’t get enough of any of it. You’ve got to credit a Thekla crowd for their ability to make almost anything fun. These guys were bashing each other around from the mere sound of the band stepping onto stage, even after being prepped with the strange warm-up choice of slow folk music from the more boring end of Americana culture. I did enjoy the band’s music, and they played well, sometimes to the point of distraction from Cuomo’s eye-rolls and hair-flips.
At one point Cuomo, dramatically pausing after each word, screamed ‘I am never… getting on a boat… AGAIN!’, and the crowd roared like he had just incited revolution. I think this sums up pretty perfectly the limp rebellion they think they’re leading. I hope their boycott of boats doesn’t provoke a worldwide crisis of aquatic passengers.
If you’re not filled with teenage animosity when you listen to them, you might start to be, although you’re not quite sure what you’re angry about. The Orwells’ brand of suburban punk rebelliousness is fun, but not particularly potent, and it was only the rowdiness of the happy customers in the crowd who carried forth this feeling. The band encountered a lot of problems with their equipment, and at one point Cuomo, dramatically pausing after each word, screamed ‘I am never… getting on a boat… AGAIN!’, and the crowd roared like he had just incited revolution. I think this sums up pretty perfectly the limp rebellion they think they’re leading. I hope their boycott of boats doesn’t provoke a worldwide crisis of aquatic passengers.
Even with Cuomo’s angst-laden dominion of the stage, I really wanted to enjoy their songs, and I often did. It’s just hard to dance along carefree to an old classic of theirs when the first notes sound and Cuomo drawls ‘and the crowd goes wild…’ underlined by pompously gesturing over the adoring fans. Maybe I was setting myself up to find him irritating. I just lost my patience for the kind of moodiness you’d expect from a child who had been told to clean his room. There was one point where he held up a backwards V sign to the crowd for a full couple of minutes – I don’t know if he had just learnt it can be an insult in the UK and was excited to try it out, but I did personally enjoy that he came across even more moronic for a moment.
The crowd was a huge part of my enjoyment of the gig – it was like having a laugh track on comedies making the jokes seem funnier. I knew when I was supposed to be roused when they threw themselves into each other, and it brought the feeling of rebellion that the music didn’t have. I felt as punk as could feel while listening to middle class white boys sing about the strife of a suburban upbringing and sipping on a £4 can of Red Stripe. In the end, the only real emotion that was riled up came from the band’s ignoring of calls for an encore when they finished 15 minutes before the set’s close. Maybe that was their intention; it would fit quite well with their apparent indifference towards a loving audience.
Do The Orwells need to put a sock in it or do you enjoy their chaotic brand of lawlessness? Let us know in the comments below or via social media.