Live review || Cancer Bats Pentagram tour, London

Even if you’re not a red-hot Cancer Bats fan you’ve got to admire a spectacular set-piece like this. In part to launch new album Dead Set on Living but totally to rise to a challenge from their booking agent, the Toronto punk-metal road hounds scheduled a one-day tour of London, with six shows routed in the shape of a pentagram. All shows were sold out within a week. It’s such a gnarly idea; how could anyone not have thought of it before? By the fifth show, we were frazzled, and that was just watching. The day started at 10am, doors at the Old Blue Last an hour later; one cappuccino, one pizza, one-and-a-half pints of coke, one blue Powerade and three sticks of gum later, it was all done. Here’s how it went down.
11.30 The Old Blue Last

Shit, it’s a Saturday: Nothing’s ever too early, like drinking warm cans of cider and continental lager in a line that stretches round VICE’s very own dive/venue/hipster magnet. The Old Blue at least has the decency to have windows into the outside world, so once show-time arrives there’s sunlight streaming in to make it all that bit more visceral once the band steam into what’s really just a line-check-cum-warm-up show, with the first stagedive clocking in at 11:35am exactly. It does mean that the shirtless dude with the Rammstein tattoo (hey, there’s always laser removal) seems woefully exposed, but caffeine and a 30-minute punk throwdown is a good a breakfast as any.

14:00 Notting Hill Arts Centre

Because of the venue’s weird layout, only the pit-happy got much of a view, but this was the sort of matinee show that should be encouraged as standard. Besides, Notting Hill is the only locale this tour is visiting that looks anyway better during daylight. Bats vocalist Liam Cormier gets the first but not the last telling-off from security for trying to start some social dancing during Witchsorrow’s set; but he got there in the end, getting Witchsorrow’s Necroskull to stagedive was a feat that could only be surpassed by whoever got Al Bundy to take a yoga class. Sabotage closed the set, BOY-EE.

16:30 Highbury Garage, Islington

It’s apparent that most of the kids at each show are going to all the shows. There’s even some dude whose traveled down from some satellite town a three-hour train journey away, after shelling out 200 bucks on tickets; with no accommodation, he’s sleeping in the station unless he gets lucky. But it’s doubly apparent that the shows are getting more intense each time out, with kids getting ejected for hanging off the lighting rig but set on their merry way if it’s a stagedive classique they’re after. and the set getting mixed up too. “Road Sick” was pretty hectic, but it “Hail Destroyer” took the cake for intensity. Three shows in, the band are bearing up. Cormier’s on first name terms with the front rows. No signs of fatigue.

17:00 Brixton Windmill

There is a dog that lives on top of the roof of this venue. It’s a big dog, a rottweiler, so it’s kinda disconcerting when he (she?) steps right to the edge to bark and slobber over the smokers. Inside, the Windmill is a classic punk dive bar, painted all crazy colours. T-shirts commemorating the dog’s life on top of the roof are available at the bar. So far, this is the most low-key of all the shows, with a sort of loose-leaf keg party vibe. But that’s OK, especially when you’re four shows in and have caught enough rubber-souled sneakers in the face. The sound’s all goosed, as you’d expect, but still tracks like “Black Metal Bicycle” cut through and get things going. There is no reliable scale for measuring a live performance, but, if you’re looking for material evidence of what happened during and after the set, the dog calmed down.

21:30 Camden Barfly

In all honesty, this leg was the killer. After four shows, three of them super-intense, the thought of the Barfly sweatbox packed out on a Saturday night was a real weakener. Sure, that’s just the old man in the crowd talking; for the band, this is exactly what they’d need: strobe lights and a better PA serving as a power-up for round five. There was a bit of disappointment that there were no Sabbath covers here. But, y’know, for the fifth set in one day, the diminishing marginal returns were not so bad, and new ragers such as “Bricks and Mortar” and “Road Sick” are going to be live favorites for years to come, staring straight ahead, in the zone. One more show….

00.00 The Old Blue Last

By the time they’ve hauled their gear up the stairs, Cancer Bats look totally fucked in. Well, Cormier does. He’s just hanging against the merch stall with the sort of haunted expression you see charity marathon runners once they get over the line in their Barney the Dinosaur costume. The others look OK. Like, Guitarist Scott Middleton is just hanging out and chatting, and drummer Mike Peters just looks like he’s got an exam or something. It’s kinda hard to separate this set from the Barfly show… Everything is Cancer Bats, like all memories of live music ever have been pushed out and replaced by 30 to 45 minute sets of oily punk and metal riffs, framed by Cormier in a white t-shirt screaming at people… It’s a form of conditioning. But aside from 14 hours of dreamless sleep and the ever-attendant squeal of tinnitus, there’s no lasting damage. For their sins, Cancer Bats are playing two sets tomorrow.

**Cancer Bats Dead Set on Living is out now: buy it HERE