Arcade Empire 4th Birthday – The Narrow
by Mike Bower
Here’s the thing about one day festivals – although you don’t need to pace yourself as much as you would at a 3 day event, a form of discipline is always worthwhile. I have on numerous occasions disgracefully ended up too inebriated to remember the best bits from a performance from some of my favourite bands. So when I heard The Narrow was playing at Arcade Empire’s 4th birthday, I made a pact with myself to try and act remotely close to my age and exercise some restraint. Here is my quick guide: have a big lunch/dinner (you will need the blotting paper), don’t have more than one shot an hour and try and time your arrival at the venue to coincide with the first band taking the stage. Needless to say some of the Grind Radio team did not follow my instructions and are now reading this article to find out what happened – lightweights!
Red Huxley started the proceedings; you may have heard some of the hype surrounding the fact they just got back from the States after recording with The Eagles of Death Metal. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see this Cape Town three-piece bring their A-game. There is an element of sheer Rock and Roll in their live performance that sadly doesn’t translate into their radio singles. I am looking forward to seeing this band in a year’s time, after they have played some shitty dive bars and had the chance to experiment.
Best bit: “My own way”- it’s that single you have heard on the radio with the sick build up and it made me very happy to hear live.
Hot off their recent reunion, the New Academics were up next. I remember hearing them years ago and thinking this is what South African rock should sound like. Their distinct sound is attributed to their fusion of Reggae, Rock, Punk and Soul (all of which are fun to watch onstage). Their front man, Joe Penn, has a highly recognizable voice and clearly enjoys performing. They did well to get the crowd going and put everyone in the mood to start moving their feet.
Best bit: “Change Up.”
When I first heard that François Van Coke was starting a solo venture I got the feeling that this was more than a side project, this was him out to prove something. Almost as though he wants to step out of the shadow of Fokof and show his personal song writing abilities. Needless to say after hearing his single “Toe vind ek jou” (featuring Karen Zoid), I was very keen to see what he came up with for his live show. I reckon he has done very well. Each song he performed off his new album has a distinct sound and shape to it and, while you can hear elements of many other South African song writers, Van Coke manages to showcase a very textured version of himself on stage. The band he has chosen to support him is an excellent fit; Jedd on guitar missed nothing on stage as usual and his band were really tight. I can’t help but get the feeling Frannie has matured. He has moved past the angst and shenanigans of the early Fokof days and is beginning to show the François I have been craving to see; an articulate, intelligent and open performer who is doing it for the music and not for the bullshit that comes with it.
Best Bits: “Toe vind ek jou” (obviously), “Môregloed” (a Van Coke Kartel cover which oozes power) and François reversing the band’s van, trying very hard not to run over the group of fans who had surrounded the van to “help” him after the show.
And finally, after carefully pacing ourselves, one of our crew members slipping and cracking his ribs on a table even before the band had started and another member of the crew shamefully going home because he had not stuck to my pacing regimen, The Narrow took to the stage. If you have never been exposed to the Narrow live, shame on you. It is a life-affirming experience, easily compared to sleeping with your high school sweetheart; you know the one who sat behind you in History, and used to wear the coolest band shirts. It’s hot. It’s heavy. You find yourself covered in someone else’s sweat, there is a weird aroma in the room but most importantly it is over too soon. I have to say I was rather worried after a quick chat I had with vocalist Hanu backstage – he looked visibly jetlagged and I seem to recall that being a contributing factor to the strain his voice took on the last tour they did in South Africa. But boy, did my concerns burn away after the first line of their opening number “Shoot the DJ”. Astonishingly, it was as if I was watching a Corey Taylor performance. Hanu’s balance of melody and screaming is spot-on and only emphasised by the tightness of the backing vocals supplied by fellow band members Jow and Emile. I have never seen the two guitarists as tight as they were – Deon and Emile made it sound as though there was a wall of super robot hybrid guitarists playing, complimented beautifully by the rhythm section of Lias and Jow, on drums and bass respectively. The Narrow is one of those rare SA bands that don’t need to prove anything, but their live performance does anyway. Look out for their upcoming album due for release later this year.
Best Bits: “I will remember” (the new single), “The banded” (their first ever single) and the time the rather attractive bar lady licked my “Push up the level” tattoo. Big ups to the Arcade crew for a rather excellent evening.
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