This is a reprint from The SF Bay Times from August of 2007 i think–about a really great band. Plus a couple videos!
I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed by the long-awaited return of British band The Subways to San Francisco. They experienced a lull in touring between their debut and sophomore LPs because in 2006 vocalist/guitarist Billy Lunn had to undergo some serious throat surgery to remove nodules from his vocal chords. It was the kind of thing that could have spelled the demise of the young band, a symptom of strenuous touring since their first appearance at the Glastonbury music festival in 2004, an honor won in a battle of the bands contest that catapulted them into nonstop live gigs, television appearances, and tours of America, Australia, France and Japan in support of their hit debut LP Young For Eternity. Any trouble or complications with Billy’s recovery could have left him unable to speak or sing at all but it seems he was back in action in a matter of months working on their second LP All or Nothing, recorded in Los Angeles with famous producer Butch Vig the man responsible for producing Nirvanas breakthrough record Nevermind as well as efforts by Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, L7, Helmet, Chainsaw Kittens, Laughing Hyenas, his own band Garbage and many more. Going with a superstar producer was a great choice and probably a dream come true for the band, whom I’ve always thought of as very Nirvana-influenced from their earliest 7-inch singles and recordings i culled from the internet. The new record won’t be released here domestically until September but has been out in England since June with digital downloadable singles preceding. I attained my copy through magic powers last month and I liked it okay. It did have a kind of super-slick feel to it, that extra-crisp Butch Vig guitar quality that totally slayed the world and put rock and roll at the top of the charts again, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I also found that Billy Lunns’ vocals hadn’t suffered any, quite the contrary in fact, he sounds richer rougher and with more dimension to his already passionate style. And yes, the screams are still there, the very thing that drew me to the band when i first heard their definitive and anthemic single “Rock and Roll Queen,” which is about and for me. The one thing that really blew my mind about this disc was the song “Girls and Boys” which was made available for free as a download months ago. It has a swelling intro of sparkling pretty guitar notes that in three brief compositional steps transforms into the most satisfying jackhammer of a guitar-riff that I’ve had the pleasure of being pummeled by this year. Its pure joy and not even slightly wussy, the potent sonic proof that i was right about this band of adorable teens from the first time i heard them. I noted on their website that they acknowledged a few bands as inspiration while recording the new one including the incredible but now defunct Mclusky, Steve Albini’s band Shellac and Swedish Hardcore band Refused. The kids are doing their homework with discerning tastes indeed. That’s always impressive. When i heard The band was playing Bottom of the Hill I couldn’t have been more surprised, it seemed like a kind of small venue for a band used to playing massive festivals and opening for the likes of Oasis and stuff but I’m not complaining. I was also surprised that it wasn’t completely packed either but the band took the stage and turned on enough raw power and charisma for tens of thousands, lucky for the maybe 200 people there.
The Subways are a trio made up of Billy Lunn, his brother Josh Morgan (who is quickly earning a place in the upper echelon of rock drummers with his powerful steady performances) and Charlotte Cooper on bass. When they first started the band Billy and Charlotte were a couple but i learned recently that they’re no longer together but still continuing with the band. There’s not been much attention given to this matter which is quite dignified and the fact that they’re going forward as a band is really very mature for a pair just barely out of their teens. Other bands have gracefully endured such splits, the first one that comes to mind is X, so it can be done. Charlotte is absolutely amazing, the tiniest most adorable blonde girl who just explodes in furious electrified motion and doesn’t stop. She’s all over that stage and doesnt miss a note, all smiles and flying hair not to mention delightful vocal harmonies that just fit in a unique but perfect way with Billy’s.
When they all hit the stage to the booming strains of some dramatic instrumental intro music (nice touch), I was surprised to see that Billy had adopted his brother the drummer’s strict perpetually shirtless dress code. I didn’t think he was the shirtless type, not that he doesn’t have the lithe perfect body for it, with the words “strawberry blonde” tattooed in an arc above his abdomen where one usually sees the name of a prison placed in gothic script. I’m generally against public shirtlessness but this worked for the brothers and it worked for me. In fact the band’s entire set, the new songs, the onstage personas, they way they moved, everything seemed to exude a certain sexiness. At one point Billy even proclaimed that the wildly dancing crowd was sexy–sexier than the motionless folks in back. He also expressed his genuine gratitude to the crowd for being there and knowing the words even on the new songs in spite of the fact that the release date wasn’t until september or “whenever someone at the record company takes their hand off their dicks and puts it out finally.” The set was heavy on the new material with a few from their first record but the new stuff really came to life and subsequently i’m really likingAll or Nothing much more than i did initially. The songs are definitely tough, some constructed with touches of pop or jangly indie rock-isms but ultimately the hammer falls and the monster is released and the rage and frustration and danger that lurk at the heart of rock and roll build a big powerful structure then destroy it, the final note is hit and the band members chests heave in unison glisten with sweat and start another one. This band was giving their all and loving their jobs.
They encored predictably with a transcendent version of “Girls and Boys” and that song should be blasting out of radios and ipods and teenagers bedrooms and college dormitories and five-roomate party flats and mission district slacker bars and car stereos everywhere, kind of like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” once did. It’s that good. Finally they played “Rock and Roll Queen” a perfect rock song in my book with it’s passionate screaming delivery and simple memorable lyric, “You are the sun/ You are the only one/ You are so cool/ You are so rock and roll/ Be my, be my, be my little rock and roll queen.” Repeat last line 4 times, final repeat is screamed, and of course, it’s for and about me. Billy stage-dove into the crowd on that one but really, nothing eclipsed that moment when he sang my song. I am the Rock and Roll Queen.