It's not often you go to a gig and get the feeling you're seeing history in the making, but that's a little what it felt like seeing Crows. I was extensively unprepared for how good a performance they would put on, even after having seen videos of them performing 'Crawling', with singer James Cox forcing his way through the crowd and managing to sing even as the audience shove him about, lift him atop their shoulders and carry him around, and just generally make it difficult to perform.
Crows evidently thrive at venues like the Tram Depot in Clapton. A tiny room round the back of an edgy courtyard containing, among other things, a brew-your-own-beer factory, the gig was wildly oversold, with people spilling out the double doors to stand bopping by the bar, craning their necks over the top of other fans to try and see the band. That didn't stop the frontman putting on a performance for them, though; taking the microphone with him, he shoved his way through the masses and screamed the lyrics, filled as they are with their dark imagery and bleak metaphors, into the faces of the overflow standing in the rain. The rest of us lifted the cable high above our heads, allowing him his exploits.
The dichotomy of how Cox interacts with the audience and how the rest of the band perform is a particularly telling part of their presence. The other three, composed at the back, hold the sound together with supreme precision, every note, beat and chord performed as though they could do the whole show with their eyes closed. And Cox—well, when Cox sees someone standing right at the front of the crowd, yelling the lyrics into his face, he might just stare you down for thirty seconds, or even wrap an arm round you and squeeze as he growls over your shoulder, or even pass you a microphone and let you sing the whole of 'The Itch' with him as he relinquishes solo vocal duties and goes to enjoy the furor of the crowd. Which is exactly what happened as I stood directly in front of the monitors, fanboying to my New Favourite Band, duet style. That he holds his audience in such high regard is refreshing; the only time I've witnessed anything similar was way back in 2010 when Linkin Park asked someone from the audience of the HMV Forum in Birmingham to join them on stage and play the guitar part to 'Crawling'.
This is the second time—obnoxious small-band supporter that I am—I've yelled the name of a song and the band have actually decided to play it. I never know whether I'm going to get a swift insult from the band (is it presuming on intimacy to ask them to play a song?), or whether they'll actually take the audience's requests into account. It speaks volumes of a band when they actually play a song someone wants to hear. At least I knew the lyrics, much to Cox's surprise when I met him just after the gig ended. The faint satisfaction on his face that someone had actually bothered to find some stuff out about the band and learn a few tunes was even more satisfying from my corner, considering I'd essentially performed part of his set with him. I wasn't even sure the microphone had been on, such was the volume of the performance—I was deaf in my left ear for three days after the event—but it didn't matter; it's not often you see interaction like this with the audience. The venue, of course, helps to make it possible—it would be much more difficult climbing off the NME Stage to go and bear hug an audience member and stare people down.
Going to see relatively small but genuinely excellent bands is a totally different experience from going to see anybody else. Sure, you might go to your local pub and see a decent cover band play, or at the other end of the spectrum, go to Koko and see Honeyblood absolutely kill it in the most famous rock venue in London. But hearing, experiencing, a band like Crows play in a venue as claustrophobic and hostile as the Tram Depot is an almost ethereal thing. And it's not just the experience itself; it's also the fact that, if tragedy occurs and they don't make it, you can say 'I saw this band once, and they were amazing, and it's a fucking shame they didn't get the recognition they deserved.' Or, if they do make it, and one day you're 50,000 people back watching them on the main stage at some god-awful festival, you can be that prick who turns to their mates and says 'I saw them before anyone knew them, and I sang a whole song with their lead singer.' In Crows' case, I'll be on my hands and knees praying it's the latter.
Photo: Daniel Quesada