LIVE: China Drum, Highbury Garage 19/12/14
China Drum were the OTHER great rock band to come out of Newcastle in the mid-’90s. Bursting on the scene about a year or so after The Wildhearts and Terrorvision, they veered towards the punkier end of the spectrum (they even managed to nab the support slot on Green Day’s Dookie tour way back when) but with a driving energy that couldn’t be ignored. While their 1995 mini-album Rolling Hills And Soaking Gills and their debut proper, 1996’s Goosefair were punked-up slices of riffage, it was with 1997’s Self-Made Maniac that they really spread their wings, introducing a more out and out rock sound into the bargain, and showing the same sort of willingness to branch out that the Wildhearts did on their finest hour Phuq.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite give them the commercial breakthrough that they needed, with all three of the singles from it faring reasonably well but stopping short of the then-hallowed Top 40. It took the Drum three years to record a follow-up, 2000’s Diskin, which marked a radical change in sound (with elements of grunge, goth and electro-rock thrown in). Predictably, it was poorly received by their fans and the band split soon afterwards.
Fast forward to 2014 though, and the Drum have returned to give things another shot with original members Adam Lee (vocals) and Dave McQueen (bass) being joined by new members John Steel on guitar and Kate Stephenson on drums, both brought in from the remains of Jackdaw 4 (talk about a bit of a musical 180 degree turn!). As they crash in tonight with Cloud 9, Pictures and Can’t Stop These Things though, it’s clear that while they may be a couple of decades older, China Drum can still kick up one hell of a racket.
Tonight’s show is, as you’d expect, pretty much a greatest hits affair with all the group’s best stuff thrown in, from the ferocious likes of One Thing and Guilty Deafness through to the more melodic Last Chance and an acoustic one-two of Meaning (which gets interrupted midway through so that Adam can make himself some toast onstage – something tells me you won’t see that happening at a Tool gig!), and the angsty Biscuit Barrel. Elsewhere, Barrier still sounds like it could detonate a venue at 500 paces and is the highlight of tonight’s set, although the best crowd reaction comes for a one-two covers encore of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights (a live staple of the band back in the day) and Erasure’s A Little Respect.
We also get a new song, the grunge-indebted Water, with a hint that more new material may be forthcoming in 2015, and hopefully this’ll be the case. For now though, it’s just great to have this very under-rated band back amongst our midst again. Hopefully it’ll be for the long haul.