Unsurprisingly, Frank Iero sold out The Underworld in Camden long before any of the support acts were announced. But then, he did play in one of the most successful rock bands of the last decade, so the chance to see the erstwhile My Chemical Romance guitarist in close quarters was always going to be an irresistible offer. One of the venue’s security staff reveals that some of his fans have been camping outside since last night. That’s dedication.
Great news for the support bands though, since they’ve been playing to full crowds every night. And with a line-up that also includes Axis Of, The Homeless Gospel Choir and Milk Teeth, and tickets for tonight costing a meagre £14, the fans should be grateful too. And they are. From the minute they walk down the steps of the basement venue to the moment they re-emerge drenched in sweat three hours later, the look of absolute joy on everyone’s’ faces is a wonderful sight to behold.
We arrive as Portstewart three-piece Axis Of warm up the crowd with their infectious single Lifehammer, which rings around the room in angular waves of electric harmony and garners the sort of applause usually reserved for the headline act. The band’s gratitude for the early turnout and enthusiasm of the crowd is evident, and it’s met with genuine adoration from their audience. This mutual appreciation sets the tone for the rest of the night.
Next up it’s Frank Iero’s old friend Derek Zanetti, aka The Homeless Gospel Choir. A pre-existing familiarity with Iero’s fans means he’s able to launch straight in to his animated, politicised, life-affirming acoustic sing alongs and the room gives itself to the music, embracing Zanetti’s ideas on love, tolerance, equality and religion (his is punk rock) wholeheartedly. The songs are a little rough round the edges but his charisma is overwhelming and he’s sincere to the core, which is all that really matters when it comes to punk.
By the time Milk Teeth take their grunge-inspired riot grrrl rock ‘n’ roll onstage the room is packed. They may not have the art of stage banter down to the same level of sophistication as the previous two acts, but their songs speak volumes and the wall of sound they create with tracks like No Fun, Swear Jar, and single Vitamins is deafeningly loud and extremely powerful – the Niravana and Sonic Youth inspired arrangements take on a whole new dimension, making the music even more enthralling live than on record.
And the same can be said to an even greater extent about tonight’s headline act. Ladies and gentlemen, **frnkiero andthe cellabration. **The band walk on stage after incense sticks are lit to a French interpretation of the Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel, before launching into the opening track off Iero’s debut solo album, which instigates an eruption of earth-shattering magnitude. After All I Want Is Nothing whips the room into a frenzy, the group proceed to tear their way through the songs off Stomachaches, from the straight up punk rock of Blood Infections, to the industrial inspired Smoke Rings, the MCR flavoured Tragician, the electronic influenced Joyriding, and the doo-wop tinged She’s The Prettiest Girl At The Party, And She Can Prove It With A Solid Right Hook.
These songs might be lifted from Iero’s debut solo record, but tonight they’re brought to life by a full band and they sound even bigger, deeper, heavier and intense. The four New Jersey boys play together with the kind of unbridled exuberance that’s impossible to deny. And even the parents (of which there are many chaperoning their kids) can’t help but nod along by the halfway point of the set.
That said Frank Iero is undoubtedly the star of the show. He’s one of the most amiable, sincere, and endearing performers we’ve ever seen live. And as a songwriter and indeed a vocalist, he’s as accomplished as they come; flipping from pain, anguish and desperation to elation and (no pun intended) celebration seamlessly. He’s also humble and gracious, taking the time to really thank all the bands that played tonight, as well as the people who’ve come to the shows and made them so special and memorable. And it’s clear he means every word.
Tonight was basically all you could ever want from a gig. And for £14, that’s more than good value for money. To quote Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. “It’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the fucking century!”
Photos: Joe Brady