Unsane / Cassels @ Future Yard, Birkenhead, 26th October 2022
A Wednesday night in October, at a small venue outside of the normal city-to-city touring map… what could possibly go wrong? Unsane have been a part of my record collection for over a quarter of a century, but I’d never seen them live before. So, it would have been remiss of me to not spend a mere £16 to see them play less than 3 miles from my house.
It’s fair to say that my gig-going friends are mostly past the idea of leaving the warmth of a Netflix box set for a midweek trip to have their ears near-destroyed. So as with a fair proportion of the audience, I made the trip to the Future Yard in Billy-no-mates fashion. Sadly, I missed the opening act, Mairu, which is a shame as their post-doom shenanigans is right up my street. But Wednesday night is bath night, so their 7.30pm stage time eluded me. I’ll be making a point of seeing them again in the future though.
The main tour support for this UK leg of Unsane’s extensive Euro-trek comes courtesy of Cassels. Never heard of ‘em? Me neither. But I’m happy to report that at least they are doing something different, which is always welcome, whether it’s ultimately to my taste or not. Cassels are a two-piece based in London and are apparently brothers, which explains why their sometimes very funny on-stage patter comes across as so natural.
Cassels are promoting their third album, A Gut Feeling, and whilst watching their half-hour set, I got to thinking that I never realised what I needed in my life was something akin to Melvins playing Blur’s Parklife. Does that sound terrible when written down? Well in a live setting it’s great. On record, it isn’t quite as heavy (either that or they were specifically sludging things up to play to the Unsane crowd?!) but certainly worth some exploration. Their set includes Mr Henderson Coughs, which is probably a good summation of their current sound – and it’s a sound that is elevated by the vocal performance and lyrics which really are totally different to anything I’ve heard for ages. So overall, in the great history of previously unknown support acts, I’ll put Cassels down as a solid 8/10, and the rest of the appreciative crowd (a smattering of whom obviously left after their set) clearly agreed.
something akin to Melvins playing Blur’s Parklife. Does that sound terrible when written down? Well in a live setting it’s great…
A note on the venue itself; it’s bloody brilliant, and exactly what small venues should be offering in 2022. They do about half a dozen really good quality craft beers at very reasonable prices. They do food during the day – a lot of it vegan – which is affordable and yummy. It has an outdoor space where they have festivals during the warmer months, and the indoor live room itself is a perfectly formed small space with a monster of a sound system. I’d urge anyone in the Merseyside area to add them to your socials and keep an eye on their listings. Use it or lose it, as the saying goes!
And so, to the main event. This tour is billed as Unsane playing ‘early cuts’, primarily as a way of drawing attention to the fact that the band have gotten back control of their early albums and have started to remaster and reissue them on their own label. Now this is a great concept, except for the fact that I’m pretty damned sure that 90% of their European fans were introduced to the band through the video for Scrape being played on MTV2 ‘back in the day’, and those fans (myself included) never had access to their earlier material – this was pre-internet, remember! As such, whilst there is a justifiable excitement in the air prior to the start of their hour-long set, it isn’t really until over halfway through proceedings when they play some Scattered, Smothered & Covered material that the crowd really starts to move and engage.
I’ll take this opportunity to now have a moan… amateur photographers of the world (and I don’t mean people with their phones – I mean blokes with bags full of lenses), please take your photos during the first couple of songs and then piss off! Unsane don’t even perform in front of a backdrop, and the lighting is pretty much the same throughout, so just how many identical snaps do you need?! There’s a skill to being a photographer in a small venue (our Shaman-leader can tell you all about it!) but for some reason one of the guys at this particular gig seemed to think he was actually part of the show – turning to the audience occasionally and gently nodding along. Bloody annoying.
they prove why their tiny New York corner of the noise-hardcore-metal world has retained the ears of so many for so long…
Anyway, I digress… Unsane are firmly in the ‘say as little as possible’ camp when it comes to crowd communication, pausing only very briefly midway through, and then again at the end to thank the crowd for coming. This works though – it means that the massive swirling wall of noise that they create is rarely broken, and the intensity is maintained. As I mentioned above, the crowd livens up with the Scattered… stuff, and when Unsane deliver Scrape and Get Off My Back to close the set, the intensity is ratcheted-up by 20% and they prove why their tiny New York corner of the noise-hardcore-metal world has retained the ears of so many for so long.
From a quick visual survey of the room mid-set, I reckon there were around 60 paying punters at the gig. Not the biggest or most financially rewarding gig they’ve ever played obviously, but definitely not the smallest crowd they’ll have played to either. Irrespective of this though, Chris Spencer (with the same old bashed-up Fender Telecaster) and the boys played like their lives depended on it. If the Unsane bus is stopping anywhere near you anytime soon I implore you to go along; support some hard-working touring musicians and help keep those vital local music venues alive.
Scribed by: David J McLaren