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Big Special Preview Upcoming New Album at Liverpool’s District [Show Review]

Big Special continue to tease their upcoming new album ‘POSTINDUSTRIAL HOMETOWN BLUES’ in Liverpool with support from Gans…



Big Special
Big Special

On entering District, one of the many ex-warehouse / factory venues in Liverpool’s Baltic Quarter, it appears that someone had gone overboard with the dry ice machine, so we take a mercy dash to the beer garden via the bar to save ourselves choking. Its such a small venue that even a minimal crowd feels like a party and as soon as we go back in, support Gans are kicking off and within seconds there is an atmosphere.

The first pound of the drum is like being woken by a bucket of cold water and the following 20 minutes is a relentless, deafening wall of sound. Looking far too young for this extreme level of classic hard rock, Euan Woodman and Thomas Rhodes own the space.

My research tells me that lyrically the band have much to say but so beautifully distorted is the sound, I can only imagine at this point. New single “Harry’s Tune” deals with themes of suicide and shows influences of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Heavy indeed. At one point in the set, they segue into Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” with ease and grace. “Business” is the killer tune tonight, veering on anthemic. There are moments when the band sounds more garage than heavy rock, they are diverse enough to break through very soon and seriously rival tonight’s headliners.

The drummer in white vest and blonde moustache provides vocals to the blisteringly brilliant “Talk Too Much”, check out that video! And occasionally leaves the drums to writhe around on the floor amongst the crowd before leaping up and shouting into their faces.

When we saw Big Special supporting Sleaford Mods (read our review here) on tour last winter, they felt like a slightly smaller version of the Mods, similarly tonight Gans feel like a slightly smaller but no less powerful Big Special. The duo with the drummer up front set-up can’t be ignored, and the random jumping into the audience and getting us all to crouch down is too much of a coincidence too. It’s like musical Russian Dolls. But there is mutual respect with both bands sporting each other’s tee shirts and Big Special declaring Gans a hard act to follow.

Big Special are one of my absolute favourite bands right now so seeing them close up and personal tonight was exciting enough, but as this gig rolls out it becomes even more special than it says on the tin.

Emerging wearing Mexican hats and brandishing bananas to a spaghetti Western theme sets the tone immediately. The bananas fly into the crowd and the band launch into album opener “BLACK COUNTRY GOTHIC” (Yes, all songs are in capitals). Like Sleaford Mods and Arctic Monkeys before them, they straddle real life social issues with just the right level of humour, mixing hard rhythms with on-point poetry, and it just works.

Vocalist Joe Hicklin has traded in his all-black Yosser Hughes donkey jacket and skinny jeans for a less confrontational light jacket and blue jeans and it does change the dynamic. Drummer Callum Moloney remains vested or bare chested and sweary in his banter. He tells us early on that we are getting the new album (POSTINDUSTRIAL HOMETOWN BLUES) tonight in order, “but as its not out until Friday, You’ll not know most of the songs”. The three big tunes that have attracted most of us to come out tonight appear early and all at once, so the triptych of “DESPERATE BREAKFAST”, “SHITHOUSE” and “THIS HERE AINT WATER” make for a frantic 10 minutes of audience participation.

Laugh in the bits where you’re meant to” asks Joe going into “DESPERATE BREAKFAST”, and “Sing along but not the swear words” for “SHITHOUSE” – Not an easy task given the chorus of “Never in a million fucking years did I ever think I’d ever see your fucking face again!”

“DESPERATE BREAKFAST” is not only sonically powerful in its instrumentation but also shows the full range of Joe’s vocals, from leery punk to what borders on operatic.

There are moments of actual poetry, backed by a dark humming tone, and “MY SHAPE (Blocking the Light)” gives space for respite before launching into “BLACK DOG / WHITE HORSE”.

There’s a small group of lads down the front who are completely immersed in the performance and Callum makes a point on showing his appreciation of how they know all the words before the album has even been released.

At 15 tracks long, the songs do need to drop a tone and some of the previously unheard songs tonight are less shouty and bring moments of solace. There is another poem, “FOR THE BIRDS” which is beautiful, and still enough bangers to send us home happy.

“DUST OFF /START AGAIN” with its “Bricks and Mortar” refrain is an instant classic, and “TREES” provides perhaps the highlight of the night when both members wander down into the crowd and embrace their fans while they sing. There’s a crouch down jump up moment too. It doesn’t get much better than this, absolute mutual appreciation of band and audience. Brilliant.

What stands out tonight is the kinship between the band and their fans, and the fact that they still seem in awe of their early success, pointing out their new stage lights with absolute excitement. They are overwhelmed by the welcome this relatively small Liverpool crowd have offered them and declare that this has been a fantastic opening to the tour. For such a confrontational band, they do sweet just as well.

Recently when we reviewed Nadine Shah (read our review here, she stated that she didn’t do encores because they’re “Silly”. Big Special explain they don’t do encores because they literally have no more songs to perform, I love the honesty. The crowd perform a mock “More, More” to keep with tradition before the album closer “DiG!”, the most traditionally musical song in their set, but nonetheless still powerful.

As I write, tomorrow is Friday and I eagerly await the postman. If tonight is anything to go by the album should be a belter. I’m guessing it will feel like a “first album” but once they get round to writing more songs we can only imagine what’s next. They are Big and they are Special.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.