Given its inextricable link to The Smiths, I’ve always associated Salford Lads Club with the bleak, monochrome 1980s. The iconic shots of the band recalling a crueller, harsher time of austerity before the regeneration of the 1990s touched the cities of Salford and Manchester. And some would say that regeneration still has to touch many parts of Salford. But once inside the 1903 building you realise how colourful it is. It may preserve an earlier probably equally austere time from the beginning of the last century but one full of rich reds, creamy beiges, pristine Edwardian brick and tile, lovingly waxed wooden floors and intricately detailed plaques and rolls of honour for former members and their athletic achievements. It’s a brilliant irony that the room dedicated to The Smiths is the old weight-lifting room.
Tonight’s Now Wave gig is in the high ceiled gym hall on the first hall, a thin rectangular room with badminton court markings and a raised stage set into an arched alcove. Brown Brogues are a late replacement for the advertised support band Mazes. As they take the stage they are the only ones taking their coats off. It feels colder inside than out in this unheated room as the surprisingly small audience stand shivering in small groups. Luckily the short primitive bursts of garage-punk-noise soon start to raise the temperature. If the special setting itself wasn’t enough, the duo perform on the stage as projections of ‘Citizen Kane’ fall across them and the walls – it is as arresting as their music. Sadly the unresponsive crowd declines requests either to move closer or sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to drummer Ben.
The five piece Titus Andronicus take the stage without ceremony and in relative gloom. I’m unsure at first whether they are actually going to start playing but unannounced kick off with ‘A More Perfect Union’ and then straight into a fast-and-furious ‘Richard II’. Frontman Patrick Stickles is as intense and shouty as on record but cordial and chatty between songs. Strangely the rest of the band seem solemnly quiet, even disinterested, with the exception of guitarist Amy Klein who never stops smiling, constantly bounces up and down and frequently punches the air.
The hardcore group moshing freely across the badminton court are forced to take a breather after the third song when a broken guitar string means there is a pause as Patrick swaps his guitar. Borrowing Mark Brogue’s guitar provides an unexpected comedy moment as Stickles has to adjust to playing a guitar with such a shortened strap it's bolted tight into his armpit. It doesn’t seem to interfere in anyway.
Live Titus Andronicus add a further level of ramshackle noisiness to their ragged glory songs of nihilism, anger and despair. It makes for great viewing though - even more so against the backdrop of either Orson Welles or Godzilla attacking Tokyo.
The crowd also are entertaining: as they get increasingly rowdy there’s the occasional good-natured stage invasion. Mainly however they join in with the many chants during the songs (“you’ll always be a loser”; “the enemy is everywhere”) with the kind of intense blinkered devotion that echoes that directed to the band celebrated in the weights room on the ground floor. Late in the set a Misfits cover is played and Stickles gets into the crowd to sing surrounded by the adoring mob. He escapes to finish back on stage with ‘My Time Outside The Womb’ and then ‘Four Score and Seven’. The whole evening was a blast in every sense.
Despite all my good intentions until tonight I never made that visit to Salford Lads Club. And despite two earlier attempts, I have failed to see Titus Andronicus live when they played Manchester. Both are mistakes I will not be making again.
The Set List:
A More Perfect Union
Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, New Jersey
No Future Pt. III: No Escape From No Future
The Battle of Hampton Roads
My Time Outside The Womb
Four Score and Seven