What do you do when you’re alone and blue, and the rest of the world got free Milk Tray and red roses? Go see Funeral For A Friend, obviously. Ruth Booth headed to Newcastle for a hardcore Valentine.
Six things we learned when Funeral For A Friend played in Newcastle
1) For years, no piece about Funeral For A Friend could be written without the phrases “return to form” or “getting back to their roots”, regardless of what they actually released. If they’d been shot out of the space shuttle on a one-way ticket to the Sun, someone would’ve heralded it “a glowing return to their origins” as composite atoms of a dying star. Still it’s got to be donkeys’ years, if ever, since we last saw FFAF on a proper hardcore bill up here – roughly a hundred bands playing one minute sets – short but sweet, and wildly differing in quality.
2) Case in point, the last two supports. The buzz around Major League just isn’t doing it for the early risers, though you suspect in a bigger crowd of punks ‘Walk Away’ would kill it out here. By contrast, Such Gold strike a vein early, not least due to frontman Ben Kotin. He’s the grinning jester, a Frank Sinatra of punk rock. Add some Set Your Goals meets Polar Bear Club schtick, and with gracious ease, they charm the skin-tight pants off this timid crowd.
3) Partly it’s the venue. Sure, the best hardcore gigs of all time have been in a shoebox some tramp’s dog’s just pissed in. Thing is that even years after the renovation, the SU basement still feels horribly sterile and unlived-in. Even the old basement’s windowless hovel had a bit of character to it, with its split levels, and café tables and chairs. As it goes, we’re in an empty ice cream tub on a school night, and the kids are taking a little while to get into this.
Funeral For A Friend @ Newcastle University Student Union - 14 February 2013 c/o Ruth Booth
4) “Don’t pin the guilt on one day,” says Matt Davies-Kreye, but there seems to be something missing from our Funeral-For-A- Valentine tonight. After an hour of non-stop slamdancing, we notice there’s been a shift in the setlist. Skipping their muddier middle records, Memory and Humanity and Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, isn’t unexpected. Nor is the half given to their first two albums – but they’ve not often had the stones to give over a full third of the set to a new record, especially this soon after release. Most tellingly ‘Escape Artists Never Die’, their go-to closer for a decade, is out. Then, it’s a mark of a well-made setlist when you simply don’t realise what’s missing.
5) Davies-Kreye has had some stick this tour for the length of his between song banter, but tonight he’s kept it tight. At one point, he picks up on the similarities between the decline of the mining communities here and in his native South Wales in the eighties, and how hardcore was a way back into self-worth for him and his friends. A pedant might point out that tha Toon itself was always more about the ship building industry, while cynic might point out that, for the surrounding communities in Tyne & Wear, a pitch like this is shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s hard to argue with the passion and conviction of the man, especially when he throws up after ‘End of Nothing’.
6) This is about more than just the window dressing of a punk rock line-up, a smaller venue or big speeches. The last few years have seen the loss of three core members, and it’s as if this has forced them into to confront the choice before them: Go hardcore, or go home. As a result, they’ve shed the gloss, and anyone who no longer wants to be there – including a portion of their audience, looking around tonight. Tonight, we’ve seen FFAF’s renewed conviction, a genuine warmth – and most importantly, a sheer, no frills hardcore edge that kicks like a ruddy mule. Yeah, okay, so FFAF are playing smaller venues these days. But frankly, my dear, I doubt they give a damn tonight.