First published 03/11/12 on http://soundblab.com/content/content/view/id/4875/preview/1:
Of all the bands in the world, reflecting on the career of The Cribs is perhaps the most heart-warming. It is slightly odd to consider that the Jarman brothers have now been a band for over 10 years and that this tour was in support of their fifth album – which is certainly not intended as an insult. It’s not that it’s hard to believe The Cribs had enough in them to make it this far, quite the opposite. It’s more that it’s odd to consider them a band on their fifth album because they’re the complete opposite of the kind of careerist band who by their fifth album are making dull versions of their debut over and over again. While bands like, say, Razorlight always seemed to want to be as big as U2 so much it was slightly embarrassing, The Cribs always seemed happy to be a cult band, inspired by the lo-fi riot grrrl scene and utterly unconcerned with passing musical fads.
Ironically, it’s this approach which has helped them become as big a band as they are today. The greatest bands in the world treat their fans well and make you feel proud, above all, to call yourself a fan. Following The Cribs through their career has always felt like being part of an exclusive club – ‘if you like The Cribs, you must be alright’ sort-of thing.
Of course, the caveat to all that is that a good attitude alone never got a band anywhere. What The Cribs have consistently done, no matter how lo-fi the sound (mainly on their first two albums), is write fantastic songs with hooks and melodies so catchy they could have been recorded on cassette, buried under the sea for 20 years, exhumed and still sound like the greatest lost pop songs of all time.
Things really began to move for the band with third album Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. Gary Jarman recently explained that Alex Kapranos (lead-singer of Franz Ferdinand and Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever ‘s producer) tried to polish up their sound because he regarded them as such a good band they deserved the success he had achieved with Franz Ferdinand – a tactic which paid off. Lead single ‘Men’s Needs’ was their first big crossover hit and you know the rest – the album with Johnny Marr, his subsequent departure, and then this year’s In the Belly of the Brazen Bull and a return to the classic Cribs line-up of the three Jarman brothers. It says a lot about The Cribs that there was widespread relief from many fans when Marr left the group. Ignore the Ignorant was a good album and Marr is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of all time, but The Cribs are at their best when it’s the three Jarmans against the world.
They open tonight with the none-more raucous ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ (considering its chorus contains a part which simply sounds like a drunk man shouting “whaaaaaaaaaaaaay”, it’s bloody catchy), and from then on they show once again how phenomenally good a live band they are. ‘You Were Always the One’, one of the first album’s best songs, is an early highlight but it’s ‘I’m a Realist’ which prompts the first mass sing-a-long of the night. Mind you, by this point Ross has already played his drums while standing on them for the duration of ‘Jaded Youth’ and there’s been crowd-surfing a-plenty, which tells you all you need to know about the energy of a Cribs gig.
One of the highlights of the night is ‘It Was Only Love’ (regarded by this writer as The Cribs’ most underrated song), which mainly consists of just Ryan and his guitar and proved The Cribs are just as good when they let the energy levels drop. ‘Be Safe’ has steadily become a live highlight too – the moment when Lee Ranaldo’s spoken-word verses give way to the chorus never fails to prompt a crowd to bawl along.
The Cribs don’t play encores (and all credit to them for not bothering with what became a gimmick a long, long time ago), so we get a choice between ‘Don’t You Want to Be Relevant?’ and ‘We Were Aborted’, with the latter winning out, then ‘The Wrong Way to Be’ and ‘City of Bugs’ and then they’re gone – another gig, another night where they endear themselves ever more to their fans.
Two more observations/thoughts about The Cribs which explain a lot: The first is that Gary sports a Free Pussy Riot t-shirt throughout the gig tonight. Not so odd, you might think; plenty of bands have come out in support of the Russian anti-Putin protestors. But where some artists give off the impression that they regard showing support for Pussy Riot as something that will reflect well on themselves (we’re looking at you Madonna), Gary keeps his T-shirt tucked underneath a long-sleeved shirt and doesn’t draw attention to it. It’s enough that it’s there because the one thing The Cribs could never be accused of is not caring and fanfare just isn’t the Jarman way.
Secondly, this writer (purely in the name of research, of course) has attended a number of nights out at the O2 Academy over the last couple of years and seen guest DJs a-plenty. Whether it be Ellie Goulding, Greg James, or whoever else had something to plug that month, they all played exactly the same songs as the regular DJs do week in, week out: ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Chelsea Dagger’ for the 500th time, until you start to wonder whether it’s even worth bothering with anymore.
The one exception was Ryan Jarman, who played stuff like The Ramones’ ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, Nirvana and the least obvious (but no less brilliant) Franz Ferdinand song imaginable, suggesting he was there because he liked playing great music to people, not because he wanted to shift a few more copies of an album and pull a student. Fiercely uncompromising and completely brilliant, here’s to the next decade for The Cribs. We’re lucky to have them.