The Cavern, Liverpool, 22 September 2021

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert

Gigs in The Cavern are weird.  It starts with the scouse caricature doormen who think they need to make some sort of funny with every single entrant (I just want to get in the gig lads, it’s not fear on my face it is a look of bored by your tedium every single time I visit the place. Every. Single. Time.) and goes all the way through the theme park to the back room where Rats were preparing to unleash their musical arsenal.  Arguably the most famous music venue in the world, it’s not something I consider to be part of the Liverpool music scene, yet for others, on the open mic circuit for example, it is the epicentre of the Liverpool music scene.  I don’t think I’m ever going to enjoy going to The Cavern.  It’s not a bad state of affairs though when your only complaint after a gig is the legendary venue that people pilgrimage thousands of miles to every day.

Opening act Reignmaker were a young band with more than a hint of swagger to them.  There is an obvious confidence in their sound, and whilst you could see nerves coming through in how their frontman avoided looking directly at the audience as he sang, the band did not let it diminish their performance.  I was a little disappointed in how loud they were.  The excess volume meant it was much harder to pick out the really interesting delicate licks and flicks in their guitar play, making the band sound like just another northern four-piece.  I definitely look forward to watching Reignmaker again as I thought their sound and musicianship has massive potential.

For a band playing their first Liverpool show, there was a healthy number of people in the audience singing along with The Skinner Brothers.  Their everyman tales and affable personalities made sure the room was on side, and they played with gusto.  Maybe it was a touch of support slot politeness, but after watching them at the This Feeling tent at Isle of Wight I felt that The Skinner Brothers held something back during this set.  However with a tour alongside Kasabian coming up they’ve got plenty of opportunities to unleash awaiting them, and those rooms are going to thrive on the sound of The Skinner Brothers.

Undoubtedly, unsurprisingly, the night belonged to Rats. As they took to the stage it seemed like everybody in the audience was on first name terms with Joe, the non-stop frontman of Rats. Usually such relationships fill me with dread at gigs because it ends up with an awkward atmosphere with supportive people turning up even though they are uncomfortable at gigs, and then others looking to push themselves up the hierarchy of friendships by having “banter”. Joe owned the mic and controlled the audience perfectly. There were no eye rolling in-jokes, nor treating the show as anything different. This was a different Rats though to the one I’ve seen before – and I don’t mean due to the personnel changes. Rats are a dominant band now, not just enjoying themselves on stage but creating excitement through their playing as well as their songcraft. I missed their last minute replacement of The Snuts at Isle of Wight as it clashed with the band I was working with, but from all accounts their set was a real success. The confidence that set brought to the band was evident in their sound. They were sharp and edgy throughout the set, and you felt like you were watching a band with the world at their feet.

I’ve not been 100% convinced with Rats in the past even if I have enjoyed watching them, but this show had magic to it. I still desperately want them to reduce the amount of songs about drug dealing and drug usage, not because of any puritanical views on prohibition, but I’m more interested in hearing about a wider range of topics considering their ability to craft a song with recognisable real life characters. There’s more to life than white lines and inventively-imported herbs. But I’ve got so much hope for the future, and in Bad Reputation, a future single from Rats’ forthcoming debut album (the first release from Warner/This Feeling), they’ve got a song which will be filling the airwaves and pushing up the charts.

Rats definitely left their audience wanting more too, which is the best place to leave them. As they thanked everybody for turning up and wished them a safe journey home Joe told everybody “the next time you see us in Liverpool, we’ll be in a much bigger venue than this“. I honestly can’t wait to see it!

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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