A mid-week sell-out show at the Wedgewood Rooms is a rarity in the last gasp of the summer season, before the industry gears up to wow the university circuit with its new next-big-things. But that's what we have tonight, with elbow room at a premium in the mixed (but mostly young) crowd of rockers, haircut-punks and indie kids, milling and goofing around in the wake of the first support act and bitching about the smoking ban.

The stage is washed with blue light, and Kill Kenada appear, a three-piece of fairly average looking blokes who could easily have been plucked at random from the crowd: baseball-capped James Eldrige on drums, skinny shirt-and-drainpipes Danny Williams on guitar, and bass-playing vocalist Tim Smithen looking like he just got back from a month of riding the tubes on some remote Cornwall beach.

Williams opens up with a simple echo-drenched arpeggio; after sixteen bars or so, the bass and drums join in with a solid, almost lumbering rhythm, and the volume and weight slowly increases in parallel with the musical tension. Suddenly, everything gets stripped back to just that arpeggio again, a four-bar eye of the hurricane before the band launch into a full-on aural assault.

They make one hell of a big noise for a three-piece, and are utterly involved in the moment. Willaims leans forward and backward, into and away from his instrument, while cranking out one of the most evil guitar sounds I've heard in a long time, double-amped so as to deliver crushing heaviness and clangorous discordant feedback at once. Eldrige hits the skins with a metronomic savagery, hard and heavy like they're the faces of everyone who ever wronged him, while Smithen rocks and sways and scuttles around as he lays down the solid bottom end of the spectrum.

Everything adds together and becomes a powerful stop-start riff juggernaut that draws on the ideas of the American big-name bands as much as the more British post-hardcore lexicon. It's an awesome display of passion and power, catchy tunes delivered like gut-punches.

Which makes it all the more tragic that the audience aren't really giving them their due. They're paying attention, sure enough – it would be impossible not to, even for someone stone deaf – but as is often the way with audiences for a show like this, they're saving themselves for the headliners.

So all the more credit to Kill Kenada for keeping up the blistering pace and power in defiance of that – their frustration is evident, but they refuse to sulk about it, seeming instead to draw on that emotion as a fuel. They don't seem the type to be especially impressed by partisan attitudes and elitism; one short mid-set number has a simple lyrical refrain over its break-neck themes:

“Omifuckingod, again and again; omifuckingod, again and again /
I fucking hate myself; I fucking love myself ...”

I'm hesitant to speak from certainty, but this reviewer suspects that is their paean to the shallow histrionics of the MySpace set. Whether it is or not, its impact is wasted on the crowd, who applaud no more or less than they had for the other songs.

When the set is finished, Smithen flings his bass to the floor and stalks off-stage, leaving Eldrige to hype the crowd briefly in support of the headline act. Whether Smithen's Townsend moment was a calculated gambit or an indicator of genuine anger, I guess I'll never know – but I could quite understand it being the latter.

Kill Kenada won the local battle-of-the-bands equivalent in this very building a handful of years ago, and the reasons for their triumph have only increased in stature since then. I suspect that in another year or so, people will be proudly boasting that they saw Kill Kenada on this tour - they will probably neglect to mention that they weren't paying attention.

So it is that all remains relatively calm until the lights finally drop for the arrival of Reuben, tonight's star attraction. They take advantage of the expectation and allow a clamour of chants and cat-calls to build up before finally rolling out onto the stage, bedecked in black T-shirts emblazoned with single capital letters ... and what appear to be ridiculously overstated 70's cop-show moustaches drawn on their faces with marker pen. Angular legato guitar lines and tight syncopated drumming lead swiftly into the opening song, and from here on in it's Reuben's night, Reuben's crowd ... Reuben's world.

Reuben's music leans more heavily toward the post-hardcore sound than Kill Kenada's metallic material. They hold a thunderous and powerful bottom end in common, but the song structures are more subtle and various, with deafening riffs and strapped-tight one-bar loops evaporating into spacious moments of comparative calm, then turning again into epic two-chord choruses.

It's a progressive style, bordering on the territory of math-rock without quite crossing the line into baroque over-intricacy, and the almost schizoid changes of riff and style sit well with Jamie Lenman's voice, which can switch from note-nailed singing to full metal roar within the space of a line – or sometimes a single word.

But the secret ingredient is always there, the thing that has made Reuben the consistently worshipped (but, curiously, never commercially successful) outfit they are – and that's the hooks; huge heavy hooks of pure steel like you might see hanging in a butcher's window. Reuben albums are full of them, and the language isn't lost in the translation into live performance; their tunes and choruses stick in your head the first time you hear them with pop-song adhesion.

The hooks may be Reuben's strongest suit, but their ace in the hole is their stage presence. That presence is largely a product of singer and guitarist Jamie, who is engagingly self-effacing and madcap as only a confident person can be. And he certainly knows how to handle a crowd. With an audience this keen, there's no need for a band to make much of an effort beyond delivering the songs as best they can, but Jamie goes that extra mile, and it pays off by amplifying the adulation already felt.

Mid-way through the set, he stops to thank the audience for selling out the venue ahead of the doors opening, and dedicates 'Let's Stop Hanging Out' to them. A song is a simple gift, and an easy one for a musician to give, but it's incredibly powerful in the heat and emotion of a live show; shortly afterwards, he asks if there's anyone “... who's willing stand stand still for six minutes of hardcore prog-rock from our new album?” And of course there are hundreds who shout that they are, and so “... this song's for you guys!” Incredibly effective; the sort of crowd skills that totalitarian dictators would be in envy of.

But it doesn't appear to be a function of cynical careerism – the impression one gets of Reuben, and Jamie in particular, is that of people who genuinely enjoy what they're doing, and enjoy being able to make other people enjoy it too. And they're more than willing to laugh at themselves, to apologise for screwing up a riff or chorus in a song just played, to have a chat with various members of the audience between songs, to mug about on stage during a song intro of sampled percussion, and to invite the drummer from their original line-up to play on a song from their first EP. It's probably this lack of uppity rock-star attitude that wins them the love of their fans, and allows them to end their set with a cheery “goodnight” and no encore without anyone feeling cheated.

When I see a band play like this, I sometimes wonder why they're not huge, and why a front-man like Jamie (allegedly) has to work in his local supermarket between tours. But I also tend to be thankful they're not – perhaps 'true' stardom would spoil them. And the intimacy is a big part of the appeal, which would be lost in larger venues. I'm happy to see Reuben just where they are – and all the evidence suggests they're perfectly happy there themselves.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken exclusively for Pennyblackmusic by Katie Anderson

















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