The Cribs – O2 Academy, Oxford

‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’, the name of The Cribs’ latest album, is rooted in irony. Not only does it play on the band’s repulsion for cliché rock-star glamour and hipsters seen in songs such as ‘Hey Scenesters!’ and ‘Mirror Kissers’, but that very ‘rock star’ stereotype is ironically undercut by the unglamorous fact that drummer Ross was sent to A&E on the first day of their UK tour. After climbing his drums in front of their Cambridge crowd, Ross took an unfortunate landing, resulting in a badly sprained ankle. But it is perhaps this combination of the Wakefield band’s deep cynicism of temptations to glamorise the music industry and the band’s embrace of their various day-to-day misadventures that fuelled the emotional core of last Monday’s heartfelt set. Touring their latest release ‘24/7 Rock Star Shit’, The Cribs delivered an energetic—and yet humbly raw—performance at the Oxford O2 Academy.

Indeed, the gig itself unsheathed swathes of nostalgia with its many throwbacks to the band’s contrarian youth, meaning that their ‘Rock Star’ performance couldn’t help but submit itself to what turned out to be a palpable and unapologetic tenderness. Emotional connection with the fans cuts deep alongside the lyrics’s spiky spirit of distrust and cynicism, expressed in The Cribs’s high-powered opener, ‘Our Bovine Public’: ‘You’d never exist if you wasn’t generic/ You’ll have to impress our bovine public’. This first rallying anthem against tabloid culture quickly fires up the enthusiasm of both the younger and older fans in the crowd, sparking a mosh pit which gradually warms up the venue on the crisp Monday night. Indeed, the Cribs’ fans seem anything but ‘generic’, ranging from glitter-faced teenage girls to late-50s dads, out with their old friends.

As lead guitarist Ryan Jarman tells the gig-goers, the last time The Cribs played in Oxford was in 2004, supporting Death Cab for a Cutie. It certainly felt like the band were coming full circle; brazen and charged with comeback energy, The Cribs seem happy to trace their artistic path right back to the beginning even as they carve out new ones with their latest release. It’s to those fans, who were there at the band’s primitive phase, as well as to the unrestrained early-to-mid-2000s era itself, that tonight’s set-list seems to be paying homage. We’re instantly treated to one of the band’s biggest hits from 2008, ‘I’m a Realist’, with its iconic opening riff sending the crowds into a flashback frenzy. Ryan’s Wakefield accent shines through in this signature tune, with his brother Gary chiming in with ‘I’m Indecisive’, creating layers of sound which sometimes jar and sometimes sync—a demonstration that the vocals don’t need to be perfectly in tune to generate an impassioned singalong. As the lights from the on-stage disco ball bask the venue in a shimmering glow, the atmosphere mellows, placing a welcomed focus on Gary Jarman’s vocals. Jarman’s words, as he pours out an acoustic rendition of the old favourite ‘Shoot the Poets’, lull the gently swaying crowd into enthralment: ‘it’s not what I’ve heard you know/ A picture speaks a thousand words/ But baby, don’t feel down’, becoming one of the more touching moments within the band’s energy-driven rock’n’roll show.

The band dig into the lesser-shared corners of their discography, weaving in tunes such as ‘You Were Always the One’, ‘You’re Gonna Lose Us’ (“we haven’t played this in years,” laments Jarman) and ‘My Life Flashed Before My Eyes’ with their newer records. ‘Hello? Oh…’ is another classic anthem on the list which seems to harness the crowd’s attention in a way as raw and immediate as it did almost a decade ago. In these, Ryan swings his microphone round to the wide-eyed half-drunk crowds, who are burning to sing back to the band the soundtrack of their youth. There’s something so captivating about hearing the band’s early output belted out back to them by an eager crowd that’s followed them the whole way, and there’s no better indication of the two-way gratitude that fills the room than when Ryan gives his microphone to one of the fans at the front as he asks them for their requests. The sweaty and grungy atmosphere reaches one of its first peaks in ‘Mirror Kissers’. All it takes is a few first notes to the opening riffs of the song and the crowd is transported back to the thick of it—dancing without a care to the indie anthems that defined an era, every bit as resonant today as it was ten years ago. My favourite of the night was the fiery anti-consumerist ballad ‘Be Safe’, which has Sonic Youth co-founder Lee Ronaldo projected onto the stage as he recites a politically-charged monologue, a sobering wake-up call for the ‘petty’ and ‘complacent’ of society.

A testament to the Yorkshire trio’s distinctive personality, their raw performance demonstrates The Cribs at their finest—an underground sensation that continue to inspire crowds of all ages and walks of life.

-- Georgina Quach, January 27, 2018