A Wilhelm Scream, Polar Bear Club, A New Day – Camden Underworld, London (05/09/2009)

By Phil Micallef.

Having missed the Reading festival a week earlier for the first time in five years, I took some scant consolation in the fact that two of the bands that I would have wanted to see the most there were both barnstorming the stage tonight in Camden Town.

Before tonight’s all-American co-headlining duel though, Welsh quartet A New Day got the wheels into motion with their crunching post-hardcore sound. It wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking, but the young group certainly demonstrated enough to suggest that they are perhaps a band to keep an eye on in the future. A good set all in all then.

Throughout the last year or so, Polar Bear Club have been making quite a name for themselves upon these shores. Their impressive debut album Sometimes Things Just Disappear was followed by a UK tour earlier in the year alongside The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner and appearances on the Lock Up Stage at last week’s Reading and Leeds festivals will surely have boosted their growing reputation.

The quintet, hailing from Rochester, New York, exceeded all expectations tonight, sounding just as rock-solid live as they do on record. The packed out and excitable Underworld crowd responded well, which was reflected in the band’s evident enjoyment on stage. With new record Chasing Hamburg out this week (from which several songs were played tonight, suggesting that this should be a release not to be missed), Polar Bear Club can only go from strength to strength. This was the first time I have seen them live and I am already keeping my ears firmly close to the ground for news of their next UK dates.

The first time I saw A Wilhelm Scream was in 2006 supporting Lagwagon at the Astoria 2 (or Mean Fiddler as it was known back then – it is now known as a building site for some pointless high-speed train station). That was their first UK appearance, so quite a special gig, but unfortunately I wasn’t really that aware of them then and foolishly didn’t pay much attention to their set. Luckily, three years down the line, I am somewhat wiser and have added the band’s fine repertoire to my music collection, meaning that this time round I was much more prepared before experiencing their truly breathtaking live show.

The Massachusetts-based five-piece beautifully combine catchy melodic post-hardcore punk with highly technical metallic guitar and bass riffs, with effortless tempo changes here and there. Tonight at the Underworld, fresh from also appearing on the Lock Up Stage at Reading and Leeds with Polar Bear Club, they were on top form with their high musical prowess firing on all cylinders and endearing them to the audience.

One of the great things about A Wilhelm Scream is that, despite their ridiculously talented musical ability, they seem so down to earth and jump around every inch of the stage with big grins plastered on their faces, interacting with the audience as if they are as one (like all bands should do). Songs such as 5 to 9, The Rip, The King Is Dead and Famous Friends and Fashion Drunks stood out as highlights, although the whole set was of a consistently gargantuan standard throughout. The wondrous finger-tapping of bassist Brian J. Robinson was particularly eye (and ear) catching. As the set ended, the crowd inevitably demanded one more song to which the band duly obliged, rounding off the night perfectly with the rousing Anchor End.

The crowd tonight were almost spoilt silly after being treated to two excellent sets from two of the best American bands doing the rounds at the moment. Top marks all round. It almost made up for missing out on Reading this year…

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