Say Anything at XOYO London
East London’s premier music venue, XOYO, was sold out for Say Anything’s first gig on English soil in four years. The band came on stage to a feral roar, the three guitarists and singer Max Bemis lining up in front of the crowd and kicking straight into Belt from their 2004 album, Is A Real Boy. There was a hunger in the air to hear the jagged, catchy punk howling out of huge speakers, and people bellowed along to every word.
Max Bemis and his band caught the energy instantaneously. Bearded and in a blue vest top, Bemis strutted around the stage like a cockerel. Either side of him, the guitarists screeched out punchy rhythms while stomping and thrusting ferociously. Jake Turner wore a t-shirt colourfully emblazoned with ‘The House of Wanking’ printed in rainbow colours. At the back, drummer Coby Linder thrashed away in a whirl of limbs.
Belt was followed by Burn a Miracle, from their new record Anarchy, My Dear. Bemis screamed “Do you want it? Do you need it?” interrogatively at the crowd, who roared it back just as loudly. It was an explosive return to these shores, and the waves of energy crashing between the band and the crowd built in size as the night went on.
A casual attendee at this Say Anything gig might be a little bemused. Their songs are built around chugging pop-punk rhythms and their choruses spit lines like “I hate everyone upon this cursed earth”. A glancing listen suggests they’re perfectly suited to the angst and secret desire for catchy songs of a mid-teen audience. Most of the crowd, though, were about a decade older and a lot hairier than your average Sum 41 fan.
This could have led to some surreal and amusing moments. The third track, Shiska (Girlfriend), had Bemis and the 20-something crowd proudly chanting “I have a girlfriend now, I have a girlfriend now!” But pay a little attention to what they’re saying and you’ll realise the band are a world away from the self-obsessed whining of bands tailor-made for 15-year-olds. They have an unpretentious self-awareness and garrulous mockery of people who take themselves seriously which aligns them in attitude with the Super Furry Animals. Just as with the Welsh band’s live performances, the laid-back approach combines with the energy of the music to free everyone to simply have a fuck-load of fun.
And this is exactly what happened at XOYO. A couple of songs after celebrating the accomplishment of finally having a girlfriend, the band lamented having lost one in Every Man has a Molly. But this is not a dirge-like elegy to the death of a relationship. The band knows well enough to leave that to artists who can really capture melancholy and yearning, such as Neil Young. Instead, it was an up-tempo, tuneful singalong. Sharp-edged guitar provided a ragged soundtrack to Bemis and the crowd cursing the likelihood that they “won’t ever have rough sex with Molly Connelly again”. This marks another big difference from the mid-teen crowd: the band can assume their audience has actually had some sex, and at some point worked out how to enjoy it.
Say Anything’s songs are well-constructed too. Their compositions may lack the innovativeness of the Super Furry Animals, but their relative maturity is apparent in the complex harmonies and shifting rhythms that they’ve clearly worked hard to build into their music.
Following the painfully joyous singalong of Every Man has a Molly, Bemis shook his head at the sweat-drenched crowd and said, “This is one of the most fun times I’ve had playing a show for a long time.” A little later he asked, “Can we just move here?” He wasn’t exaggerating. The crowd were every bit as involved and energetic as the band.
As the gig came towards its end, all the mad activity of a good old-fashioned rock gig began to erupt. To the sound of half the crowd yelling, “Called her on the phone and she touched herself, I laughed myself to sleep”, bodies came tumbling over our heads, someone climbed a column and unleashed a primal roar, and t-shirts and beer rained down on Bemis. When Say Anything finally finished their encore with Admit It, an attack on New York yuppies that could easily be transferred to east London hipsters (“Admit it! You know nothing about art or sex / that you couldn’t read in any trendy New York underground fashion magazine…”), the roars of appreciation were mixed with laughter and a general merry burble of high spirits. Everyone filed out of the gig having shouted and roared and chuckled and jumped and they all looked better for it. A sign of a damn successful gig.