RFB ROAD TRIP: Part Three - JD Roots The Cribs at Theatre Royal, Wakefield - 16/05/2012

09 Jul 2012

Michael Nebraska leaves behind the abandoned arcades of Southend behind as he ventures north, Wakefield to be precise, in search of The Cribs who are playing their first homecoming show in half a decade. 

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A bright and shining northern Britain greets the Euston train. In sharp contrast to London’s pallet of greys the window view offers sunlit meadows, valley villages and rolling hills. This ain’t no middle earth dreamworld though – the signs of degeneration and desperation are evident in every condemned building we pass, and in the anonymous strip mall trying to make this town, our stop for the night, the same as all the rest – a shamefully generic PC World of Leather.

The town in question is Wakefield and you can tell, from the moment you step on to Westgate, that this is a town in love with and proud of their most famous sons to date, The Cribs. The Elephant and Castle pub is decked out in posters, speakers blast the best of the band and the staff proudly wear their Jack Daniels / Cribs shirts as they dole out pints of Tim Taylor to the gathering throng. Same goes for The Black Horse up the road – they’re fully enthused by and involved with the event tonight – one that has such local demand for the precious, extremely limited tickets that it’ll screen live at legendary venue The Hop as well as at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club for those not lucky enough to gain entry.

The Cribs haven’t played at home for, in their words, “half a decade”. As the beautiful Theatre Royal welcomes its guests and bar staff hand out free Jack and Gingers to an increasingly excitable crowd we’re treated to a brief set from local legends Retarded Fish. They broke up in ’97 but have reformed here tonight at the request of The Cribs which says a lot about the strength of connection the band has to its roots. Their blend of New FADS (anyone?) rhythmic aggression and the kind of grinding guitar rock popularised by groups like Jesus Lizard is rough at the hem but has a strong, still-pumping heart and, most important, the guys get a great reception and genuinely appreciate every second of it.

Part of a Wakefield scene that is one of the richest and most vibrant in the whole of the UK (just check out their yearly festival Long Division and wildly enthusiastic local ‘zine ‘ Rhubarb Bomb’ for proof), and one that still boasts great talent like Runaround Kids, The Cribs take the stage to be greeted by a packed room that ignore their seats and scream along as they mean to go on. ‘Chi-Town’ lashes out hard and kicks into an incendiary ‘I’m A Realist’ and before breath can be caught the Jarman brothers throw their wiry frames into the frankly beautiful ‘Cheat On Me’ and early mock-pop classic ‘Hey Scenesters’. 

Chants of “Wakefield!” fill the air and the band, five albums in to their career and more vital and vibrant than ever, unleash vintage gear like ‘Baby Don’t Sweat’ alongside their Lee Ranaldo collaboration ‘Be Safe’; the vicious politico-rock of ‘We Were Aborted’ rubbing rough shoulders with chugging scream of ‘We Were Aborted’ and the dedicated audience pogo-ing and hoarse-throat shouting every word.

The band are honoured at their heroes welcome and pay tribute to both the scene and Wakefield itself along with respectfully mentioning their support and the staff at the Theatre Royal. Closing with new epic psych-out ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’ the packed balconies positively vibrate with both noise and love. There’s a real sense of occasion here, hundreds of smiling faces, hands in the air, voices loud and chests swelled with pride.

There’s no encore (it’s really not needed) but the crowd keeps the roar going as the Jarmans’ offer a respectful stage bow to the home faithful. It’s been an inspiring, fiery performance that recalls the most frenetic moments of The Replacements, occasionally mirrors the tuneful northern nature of The Smiths and even reaches for the squalling heights of Sonic Youth. The Cribs are rightly celebrated here in Wakefield, and Wakefield is rightly celebrated in turn by them. No matter what the strip mall wants, this town will never be the same as all the rest.

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