Ont Road x Apathy and Exhaustion – Clowns / Mannequin Death Squad / Daves at The Key Club, Leeds, UK, 20/07/2023 – Collaborative Live Review

ToN: I’d like to welcome Lukas on board for collaborating on this article (his words are in normal typeface, mine are in italic), and thank him for suggesting to do this based on his spur of the moment suggestion during the gig. Note: LS = Lukas Schwarzbrennen of Ont Road and ToN denotes Tony of Nurgle of Apathy and Exhaustion. This review will be posted on both sites. Safe to say we had a boss night out.

LS: The internet can be a wonderful tool for bringing people together. Case in point tonight. Here I am sat at NORTH BAR in Leeds, with one casual acquaintance, and one person who I didn’t know. Our shared connection? We all like punk rock, and all used to knock about in Manchester in the early 2000s. Tony, back then was known for running ROADKILL RECORDS in the Northern Quarter, and he was a regular DJ on Thursdays during the student night at JILLY’S ROCKWORLD. Andy from TNS RECORDS was also at the gig, and reminisced how we used to be able to have a good night out there and get drunk for 8 quid. Contrast that to the modern day, where it’s possible to pay 8 quid for a sole pint in some places. Tony was supportive of my old zine WATERINTOBEER, and would always let me sell copies in his shop. Then for nigh on 20 years we stayed casual acquaintances on social media, and had the odd passing conversation at 1 or 2 gigs since then. We were joined by his friend Dave, and enjoyed a couple of pints whilst discussing the news coming out of the ANTI-FLAG camp, and the ethical considerations of whether to go see TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET in Leeds next weekend, whose singer has also had some accusations of a similar nature made against him. That’s a topic that warrants a whole new article in itself.

ToN: So this is a new one for me. I’ve not overly tried my hand at live reviews before, and find my comfort zone is more typically record reviews. And it’s a new one for me for another reason. This is a collaborative review with Lukas Schwarzbrennan of Ont Road (formerly Water Into Beer fanzine). Bit like a crap version of a split 7in, minus the administrative effort.

Weirdly tedious fact alert: we both keep spreadsheets of “stuff”. Luke has a spreadsheet of all the gigs he’s attended. I think he was aiming for a 1,000 before he hits 40… I keep one of my record collection. Now that I’ve made us both sound like especially exciting people, let’s have a look.

LS We made it to the show in time to see the last four songs of the local support band DAVES, whom by all accounts hadn’t played any shows for five years, and by the crowd in attendance that night, nobody seemed that bothered about them. Despite that, they were probably there for a reason, and added an unbeknownst value in some way to the event. Musically competent, but nothing to write home about.

ToN: So opening the bill we had a local band known simply as DAVES. Not “Dave’s Band”, just DAVES. Not to be confused with the vastly superior TOO MANY DAVES. Yes, DAVES. They had apparently been inactive since 2018 or something. I’d had a brief flick through the stuff on their bandcamp page the previous day, so I wasn’t expecting much.

Now, I don’t like to unnecessarily piss on anyone’s chips, but as is my duty as a veritable paragon of honesty (you’d expect no less at this stage, right?) and an Adonis (non-physical, obvs) of beautiful, naked truths… they were fairly shit. There’s no reason to be beating about the bush, here I’m afraid. Now you may say “everyone has to start somewhere, Tony!”, and you’d be right; in fact I’d suggest a lengthy incarceration in a practice room for starters. Fact is, nobody wants to see grown men playing sub-Battle of the Bands standard garbage. Having said that, there were a few long-haired young teenagers prancing about though, so at least someone had a good time. However, I suspect this could have been their first time out of parental supervision…

Photo by Tony of Nurgle

LS: Then it was time for the Aussies. Two touring Australian band, both from Melbourne, both on their own tours, yet joining together for the first night of the respective tours. First up was MANNEQUIN DEATH SQUAD, an interchangeable two piece, consisting of guitar/drums with dual vocals. This was a refreshing change to the norm, and would be pigeonholed into the post punk genre. They certainly covered a range of styles, and it was often unpredictable where the song would go next, and wherever it did go, it worked nicely, and none of the sections were overly done, nor were there any parts where the band were milking any specific section too much. At some points I am hearing pop melody vocals akin to MICHAEL JACKSON or PARAMORE, and at other points the music is full force surf rock similar to AGENT ORANGE.There was a lot more going on than this, and it was overall definitely a thumbs up from me. I was easily able to picture this band playing at an introducing stage at any alternative music festival, and instantly being enjoyed by the crowd.

ToN: Next up we were treated to a Melbourne two-piece called MANNEQUIN DEATH SQUAD, filling the main support slot. Neither of them are called Dave (it’s Ellie and Dan). For context, it’s a one female, one male duo sharing vocal duties, drum duties and guitar duties between them. Yep, they flip roles mid-set. Again, I’d had a flick through their bandcamp page the day before, and found something about their stuff that excited me, so I’d been pretty keen to hear more.

Photo by Tony of Nurgle

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to Dan’s stage make-up, which I am assuming is a nod to the photo on the artwork for ‘Goddammit’ by ALKALINE TRIO. Or maybe ERIC OZENE of THE NERVE AGENTS? Anyway, I thought it looked cool.

Photo by Tony of Nurgle

I was struck by the dynamism this pair brought to the stage. I suppose the risk with a two-piece is that the stage can be prone to looking fairly empty. In this case, MANNEQUIN DEATH SQUAD managed to fill it with an energetic and exciting physical performance. Sound-wise, last night I was thinking these guys sounded somewhere between DISCOUNT, MASKED INTRUDER and ‘Goddammit’ era ALKALINE TRIO. Definitely one of the most exciting live bands I’ve seen so far this year.

LS: CLOWNS is an interesting name for a band, it has so many connotations. I can imagine ALF STEWART standing at the back of the room, taking one look at the appearance of the band as they enter the stage, and him piping up with ‘Look at the way they’re dressed, they look like a right set of Clowns, strewth!’

photo by Helen Oxley

One of the key reasons I went to see them was from reading a bio that said they were on FAT WRECK CHORDS, and in addition I had some strong recommendations about how good they are, from a few friends. Tony also assured me that I was in for a treat, and I deliberately decided not to listen to them before the show, so that I would get the debut experience in the live setting. They were absolutely fantastic. After years of playing live they have got their shtick down to a tee, and their energy and enthusiasm is infectious, as was witnessed by some of the crowd enjoying themselves in the pit. I enjoyed every minute of it, and was pleased to have taken a chance on going to see them play live.

Photo by Tony of Nurgle

ToN: On to CLOWNS, who I’m a big fan of, in particular since catching them live last summer with Manchester’s BRUISE CONTROL and local melodic hardcore act, WITHOUT LOVE (also at Key Club). It’s fair to say that they have been earning a rep as one of the best live acts on the global punk scene. They have all the hallmarks of a band that plays live regularly and practises a lot. Stupidly tight, ridiculously good.

Photo by Tony of Nurgle

I think it helps massively that they clearly have a lot of belief in the songs they are playing. Scathing social commentary and introspection play equal parts in the lyrical content. Performance-wise it’s all about thrashing it out, having a good time and emphasising inclusivity. Cases in point here are singer Stevie down in the crowd passing the mic and ensuring those aforementioned young teenagers are included; seeing the glee and excitement on their faces as this was happening made the night worthwhile in it’s own right. Weirdly it’s during the Clowns set that it becomes clear that one of these teenagers is in fact some sweat-drenched 50 year old dude that’s been flailing about for the entire night, and Stevie has his arm around him and he’s telling him he’s “got the energy of a 21 year old”. I dunno, I just think both those things are really cool. Maybe it’s because I’m running to fat and I’m 46 next week. Fuck knows.

photo by Tony of Nurgle

Anyways, we’ve got a great set including more recent numbers (from the ‘Nature/Nurture’ LP), like ‘Prick’ and ‘I Shaved My Legs For You’ alongside older numbers such as ‘Euthanise Me’ (from ‘Bad Blood’). We’ve also got some new ‘uns like ‘Formaldehyde’ and ‘Bisexual Awakening’ that have been doing the rounds ahead of their forthcoming and highly anticipated (by me at least) 5th LP ‘Endless’ which is due to drop in October (via their own DIY label, DAMAGED RECORDS in Australia and New Zealand and FAT WRECK CHORDS for the rest of the world).

LS: There seems to be a nice buzz about underground alternative bands from Australia right now, and both MANNEQUIN DEATH SQUAD and CLOWNS both deserve to be in that conversation.

ToN: On this note, I’d like to suggest some other bands from Australia that are worth checking out, all of which sound pretty different: STIFF RICHARDS, CIVIC and PARSNIP (LS: I will add in GELD here too). I hear there’s a ton of great stuff over there waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world, so it’s an exciting time right now.

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