One of these days, some Hard Rock Café somewhere will have Elvis’s decaying corpse dug up and nailed to the wall behind the bar. This will work out great for them: HRCs do business because they root about in rock ‘n’ roll trash, and hang up the choicest bits in the name of history. And history is all very well, but, done this way, simply amounts to piling a great deal of useless baggage, so it crowds out all the fresh air from the room: it’s not nostalgia that these places evoke, but the stifling feeling that the dead will never leave us be.
One way to crush an eager young band‘s free-will is to park them on a bar-top stage between Bon Jovi’s old stage costumes, rusty Whitesnake bass guitars, and Bono’s cock in a jar of formaldehyde. It’s a cartoon set-up for a cartoon venue, and what it tells the group is this: you’re our singing and dancing theme-park clowns for the evening, and we can do with you as we wish.
Musicians in that position, then, face one of three choices. They can bend over and give in, and toe the rock tradition line: all that concert DVD bullshit, playing guitars with your teeth and strutting around like Ronnie James Dio does, all those things which audiences still mistake for stage-presence. Alternatively, they can wither, and limp their way through the set wishing they were dead, or far away, or both, as the middle-aged, goggle-eyed alcoholics and the tweens with an endless line of credit from papa stare at them in boredom.
Or they can fucking charge through it anyway, and, against the odds, haul everyone up by their earlobes and get them to pay attention. Blek of Bombay are heroes, because they gambled on the third, and won.
And now, the sales pitch: Blek are three boys who play something which involves a lot of very tight, repetitive grooves with electric-guitar spikes scattered all over. The idea, as I understand it, is that you bang your head along to the drums and bass so it starts coming loose at the joints, while the lad with the Telecaster takes care to jab you from time to time out of any creeping complacency. The singing is out of football games in England. The stage act is basically raising merry hell with abandon. At the heart of it, Blek seem to write songs for no better reason than they’re of student age, and being in a really noisy band at uni is the quickest way to bring the girls home.
And that’s the main thing which struck me at their show: this band shouldn’t have been in that restaurant at all that night. They should have been at a college party. They should have been playing to kids skronked off their heads on breezers and cough medicine. They were loud here, but, god knows, they should have been five times louder: the whole thing would then have turned into something beyond a concert. It would have been groove and sweat and adolescent sex and white noise: and all of those things are the most healing things music can ever be.