All photos: Klea Scharberg
I mention something about The Rumble Strips sounding like “British indie-rock” and drummer Matthew Wheeler sticks up his nose. “I wouldn’t say that”, he protests. I throw a few more titles at him, but still, he shakes his head. “We are nothing.” (Ed note: NIHILISTS!)
Well, for the sake of description, genre seems almost imperative. The English tongue of vocalist Charlie Waller sure sounds indie-rock like that of Jon Fratelli or Alex Turner, but Wheeler’s on point- they really aren’t that one-dimensional.
The poppy lyrical melodies collide with an erratic progression that is anything but lackluster. Playing tracks from their one and only release, Girls and Weather, a theme is carried out throughout their set, but doesn’t bore. It never feels repetitive or unoriginal. The band stops, leaving wide-eyed Waller singing in between Sam Mansbridge’s bang on the orange drum. Its good clean sound is almost “simple”, with the common instrumentation of a multi-member group- drums, bass, keys…the usual. The lack of electronica, I find, is relieving in a year that loves dance and experimental noise. You can’t help but tap your feet to its undemanding sound.
It has been a long while since Mighty Mighty Bosstones have even come into my thought process, but thanks to Tom Gorbutt on the sax, it’s hard not to. “Time” was absolutely my favorite song of the night. The element of ska is just distinct enough to give The Rumble Strips that beat you can dance to. On tracks like “Oh Creole” and “Cowboy”, the Vampire Weekend soulful pop is pleasing to the ears, belting out an anthem of a broken heart, as the intensity builds and relaxes with their harmonies.
So I went into this show excited, high off the fumes of Nick Cave’s impressive stage presence and charisma. A polished veteran character, delivering highly theatrical, yet extremely engaging rock in the grand sense of things. To completely flip-flop, the Rumble Strips were touring on the heels of their first release, yet to be truly vetted in the Americas, yet certainly up-and-comers in the UK.
After hearing their first album, I was a bit concerned that they would be too easily binned and discarded as Dexys copycats with a limited range of mood and expression.
It is nice to be proven absolutely dead-wrong every once in a while.
The Rumble Strips played their hearts out to a not-even-half-full, bouncy backstage that seemed to know their entire catalog, however brief, front to back. Astonishing. Dancing in a crowd of tens, in DC. Again, astonishing. And by a band that isn’t peddling some sort of populist, electro-infused remix. I call that a trifecta that should be commended. While their youthful energy bordered on naivete, it was more infectious than an epidemic and quite genuine. The group as a whole was rather tight, though I wouldn’t expect less for their music which is technically not very challenging.
The star of the night though was undoubtedly lead vocalist Charlie Waller’s pipes. The power in that slight frame is reminiscent of the kind of unexpected wallop of petite opera singers; he rarely missed a note and the fullness and richness of his tone was plenty to keep one entertained. He’s truly a joy to hear and his off-beat, quirky antics as front-man proved likable, if not quite lovable due to a bit of a creepy factor. It becomes clear his major strengths are either unbridled joy and enthusiasm as on “Looking at the Clouds” or soulful retro-pop crooning with a tinge of melancholy found on tracks like “Time.” Highlights of the night were clearly the achingly nostalgic reminiscence and rumination of “Time” and the peppy, humorous “Alarm Clock.”
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