Oh man. It wasn’t a tough decision to head down to the Old Blue Last for Kerouac’s final show, but it sure as Hell was a difficult proposition to review it afterwards and convey even a fraction of how it felt on the night. Hugh Platt handles the words; Ben Gibson is our man with the camera.
Six things we learned when we saw Kerouac’s last EVER show:
1) Wow. When we were wrote about Evile’s charity show at the OBL being hectic, we thought we were seeing the venue at its most raucous. After tonight’s show, that assessment seems nearly idiotic in the timidity of that night in comparison to Kerouac’s final send-off. To put some perspective on tonight: it’s 7:00pm when we enter the venue, just 30 minutes after doors opened, and already the place is rammed right up to the doors. We’re not exaggerating – we had to talk our way past security, who were already weighing up whether to let anyone else in to the venue. We have never seen the OBL so busy at such an early hour. Naysayers might like to cite the fact that this is because this is not only a free show, but also that there’s a rubbernecking section of the audience – the kind of people who are only here to say boast later that they were – who have only hauled their fat arses along to watch a band now they know they’re splitting up. But that’d be an unfair assessment, and it isn’t reflective of the mood that’s here tonight. No, the venue is packed with people who genuinely want to come out and celebrate Kerouac, not the fact that they’ve chosen to call it a day.
2) With that in mind, it’s not surprising nor an exaggeration to say that every band, every band on tonight’s bill plays the best show we’ve ever seen them play. Okay, so we’re speculating somewhat in the case of Gnarwolves and Veils (tonight’s “unannounced special guests”) as we’ve never actually seen them play live until tonight, but bloody hell: neither band pulled any punches tonight. We’ve never seen The Long Haul attack a gig with such fire before, and it’s all the more fiercer when Goodtime Boys frontman, Alex Pennie, clambers onstage for some impromptu guest vocals. It’s a trend that pretty much every band indulges in for the rest of the night – Veils’ Chlo Edwards joins Bastions onstage, and pretty much everyone joins in with Pariso on the mic at some point. It’s almost as if every band feels that their own allotted stage time isn’t enough for them to show how much Kerouac means to them, and everyone within the micro-scene that is (was?) #UKswell is happy to let their comrades overspill from set to set like this.
3) If there is any element of competition between the bands tonight, then it’s only insofar that each band is trying to one-up the chaos that the band preceding them managed to inspire. Pariso’s non-nonsense no-bullshit approach to riffs might lack complexity in comparison to some of the other bands on the bill, but they go above and beyond everyone (bar tonight’s headliners…) when it comes to carpet-bombing the OBL with sound. Carpet-bombing – does that sound like an over-enthusiastic metaphor? Well, it’s not, and you wouldn’t be thinking that if you saw the mangled on limbs that was left after the first proper wall of death the OBL has seen in a long time. And yeah, they might not have succeeded in their ambitious attempt to get a circle pit going around a human pyramid, but the fact that they had the gumption to try, and the audience was more than willing to give it a go, well, says it all, doesn’t it?.
4) We’ve been to a fair few Bastions shows over the years, but we’d bet we’re not alone in saying that this was the best show we’ve ever seen them play. From Jamie Burne orchestrating an organised stage-invasion to get as many people joining in of ‘Augury’‘s shouted-word introduction, to that wall of death you can see in Ben Gibson’s photo gallery up above, that London finally, finally pulled its collective finger out and showed Bastions the kind of show we’ve known they deserve for years was incredibly gratifying to see. That the band’s new recruit on bass, Crocus’ Zachary Birchley, managed to step up and perform on such a high-profile (at least as far as the rarified circles of modern UK hardcore goes) was just adds to that sense of accomplishment. Okay, we’re also ever so slightly jealous of his monstrous beard. There’s pretty much none better in all of UKHC.
5) And so we come to Kerouac. They might not have been around for all that long – a handful of EPs, a single album, and a band-lifetime considerably shorter than your average household pet – but they’re impending absence from the niche they helped carve in UK hardcore will be felt all the more harder by those they leave behind in the space their absence creates. The fact that with such a relatively small catalogue to their name they’re still able to drum up such a fervent and loyal response from both fans and their contemporaries shows just how good that material is. Throughout their set tonight, the look on the face of the band’s frontman, Thom Denson, is one of a man who can’t quite believe people care about this band that much. For those of us who’ve been shouting about how good this band are for years, it comes as no surprise, and neither does the fierce, almost painful joy that both the band and crowd throw into every single song of Kerouac’s set tonight.
6) After closing the gig with ‘Fiends’ – a track still as monumental as when we first heard it - the entire venue as one roars out for one more, just one more song. Denson can only shrug and admit that they’ve “already played all of our songs”. The idea of going out at the top is one that’s bandied around so much it’s beyond a cliche now, but for a band to play all their material and still have people howling for more is testament to just how strongly those songs resonated with those that took the time to listen. Kerouac might not have reached the pinnacle of hardcore in a commercial sense, but they reached it in the one area that truly counts – that of connecting with people with whom their music really matters.
Adios, Kerouac. And goddamn, you’ll be missed more than you know.
Kerouac will be posthumously releasing their entire discography on 12″ vinyl via Holy Roar / Tangled Talk / Pink Mist very soon. Once it’s up and available to buy / pre-order, rest assured we’ll be pointing you in the right direction.