The opening minutes of The Cribs’ Bristol O2 Academy show didn’t exactly seem to bode well. ‘I know it’s Sunday but that’s no fucking excuse, we’re in Bristol man!’; as the first thing said by co-frontman Ryan Jarman after the crowd-confusing choice of ‘Ancient History’ as opener, it’s not exactly a statement which screams confidence. In fact, on a cold October day it sounded kinda like a conversational version of the infamous Lee Ranaldo ‘Be Safe’ speech lamenting ‘one of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger’. Though not quite that bad, many of the crowd seemed – in hindsight particularly – underwhelmed. Despite producing a twenty song set, ‘Where was ‘Chi-town’?’ and ‘What happened to ‘City of Bugs’?’ were some of the prevalent post-show comments, while the actual ‘Be Safe’ performance was demoted from merit because they didn’t project Lee Ranaldo ‘like they normally do’.
The thing is, these problems have only arisen because their fans are so devout and have seen them so many goddamn times. A twenty song set should be enough to satisfy even the most discerningly Cribs-loving palette, but instead the ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ and (less than expected) ‘For All My Sisters’ driven bill left a sour taste in the mouths of some. From a rational standpoint, The Cribs did incredibly well to construct such a well-rounded show, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough even had they performed their entire discography with both Johnny Marr and Lee Ranaldo actually on stage busting out some freestyle rap.
Keeping on this objective side of the line then, The Cribs truly did put on a cracking show which ticked the most textbook of boxes and almost all the other ones besides. Aside from the occasional lack of confidence/clue what to say (at one point Ryan started trying to chat to the bar, much to the confusion of everyone around), the Jarmans and cohorts were vigorous to the point of absurdity on their part and exhaustion for the sound guy who between lost mics and tripped wires barely left the stage. As the raucousness of ‘The New Fellas’’ ‘Hey Scenesters!’ ended with Ross somehow standing on his drum kit and the audience screaming their throat lining away mid-indie move, the tone was seamlessly changed with the angsty new ‘Summer of Chances’. Later in the set meanwhile, the semi-acoustic and quite literally lighter-waving-worthy ‘Shoot the Poets’ transitioned into yelp and jive-along ‘Mirror Kissers’.
It’s changes like these which kept the audience on their toes – very literally in the case of the near circle-pit in ‘Mirror Kissers’, or off them in terms of the crowd-surfing of ‘Men’s Needs’ towards the end of the set. At this point, the old adage of ‘they’re growers, not show-ers’ seemed about appropriate. As the years of experience kicked in and they’d gotten thoroughly warmed up, from about a third of the way through the guitars got tighter and vocals more impassioned to the point that it was clear from a medical position that they physically couldn’t have played like that for the whole gig.
While ‘Another Number’ had fans clambering up on shoulders and ‘Be Safe’ drew crowd-wide impassioned singalongs, The Cribs made appropriate another cliché and managed to save the best until last, rounding things off with a crescendo of musical intensity and impeccable stage production. As ‘For All My Sisters’’ closing number ‘Pink Snow’ kicked in, the lighting – very present but not centre stage until this point – was a soothing deep blue to sympathise with the opening warped underwater guitar; that is, until shit got heavy and the room was bathed in a surprisingly aggressive pink glare. Initially, the pink to blue seemed an obvious transition; the song is called ‘Pink Snow’ after all. Towards the end of the track however the sections transitioned more rapidly as the distinctions somehow become more severe and brilliantly, the lights worked with them. While an ominous green had helped ease in ‘Men’s Needs’, a stark semi-blackout brought out the hostility of ‘Be Safe’ and glitter-balls brought the pop-punk party up a notch on ‘Finally Free’, ‘Pink Snow’ made a member out of the lighting and brought the best out of the entire band. Amidst the confusion of aquatic ambience and a rose-hued furore, the audience were completely enraptured, moving without control one moment and stock-still staring the next.
It’s rare that a closing number not only goes out with a bang but cauterises everything neatly, yet that’s what The Cribs managed in Bristol. While people might’ve been miffed about not hearing their favourite songs and their inter-song stage presence could’ve been a bit less strained, what mattered was the craft which went into the songs and set alike which really, was faultless. Diluted initially, the fever pitch this reached at the end more than made up for any discrepancies along the way. As Ryan shouted in appropriately Northern tones ‘Bristol, you’ve been fucking great!’ and overall, it seemed everyone present was incline to agree.
‘For All My Sisters’ is out now via Sony Blew/ Sony RED UK