Scuttling down the dark back streets of Leicester city on a Sunday night would normally mean you’re up to something dodgy, and as we sidle up to the queue of distinctly eclectic looking folk bathed under the faint green glow of a neon sign, it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of reputation the ‘alternatives’ always had – dodgy. Luckily our band of choice tonight, made their mark singing about precisely this sort of thing, so we’re in good hands.
As we slip past the giant sage green tour bus, jammed like a conga eel down a tiny alleyway, and head into The Soundhouse venue, we are greeted by friendly faces and an absolutely tiny room. Now, I must note two things here. Firstly that I adore gigs in small venues. There is an intimate and special quality that definitely dies in larger places. Secondly, I have no idea how we’re all going to fit in here, nor the band on the miniscule stage.
As it turns out, I need not have worried – the tattooed skinheads, stoners and hipsters have all filed in just fine and there’s a decent amount of dancing room. I do slightly fear for the health of the two very on brand dirtbags at the front, who have come in full ‘Loser’ movie regalia of parkas and furry trapper hats. Exemplary dedication to the cause.
A small merch stand is selling the very last of their tour tshirts, signed posters and such. There are quite a few items that have sold out, presumably due to the fact that we have ended up being the very last date on this tour due to Brendan B Brown’s illness causing the cancellation of the previous show. I’d also like to highlight how brilliant it is that they and The Soundhouse worked together to get this night stuck on the end instead of just faintly promising “they’d be back at some point” – we are truly grateful, and it’s a sellout show for a second time.
Up first is the perfectly awkward purveyor of (as he puts it) Nerdcore Rap, MC Frontalot. Ascending (and by ascending I mean taking one slightly elevated step) the stage wearing a very convincing Dwight Schrute outfit, and a head-torch he yells “I’m a nerdcore rapper, from San Fransisco to Knife Crime Island” and laments that this is the 47th and final time he’ll have done this show on this tour.
Instantly taken with his self-deprecating rhymes, we giggle our way through the likes of ‘First World Problem’ and ‘Power User’ – “I’m in a sadomasochistic relationship with my desktop computer” he says, deadpan. The beats are distinctly 90’s in feel, and I guess the intersection of rap and rock was a lot lower in the UK than it was in the US, so the crowd is unfortunately kind of flat, which is a shame as Frontalot is actually really fun.
There’s a definite Flight of The Conchords style familiarity about him, which I obviously enjoy, and joking about being dressed like a sixth grade English teacher has us in stitches, mainly because my plus one for this gig tonight actually *is* a high school English teacher. Finally the ‘Tut Tut’ song requires a bit of crowd participation and at this point everyone seems to decide it’s ok to join in and have a bit of a boogie, which obviously serves to rocket the temperature of the room. Anyway, MC Frontalot – I salute you, that was a kickass set, and I shall join your Nerdcore rap movement by subscribing to you on Spotify later.
As Wheatus sneak onto the stage to start setting up, a commotion in the middle of the room is brewing. It seems that a lady has passed out and they’re trying to get her to the fire doors for some air. As Brendan B. Brown calls for security to come over and help before they start, I joke “Well, you’ve got them passing out before you’ve even played a note” and he replies “Ha, well… it’s not my first choice”.
Once the situation has been appropriately handled, the gap in the crowd closes and all eyes turn to the now very cramped stage. Brendan is sporting a rather excellent semi-acoustic guitar whose sound holes are shaped like the Wheatus stylized ‘W’, and yells out a quick hi to the crowd before asking what we want to hear. Now, I knew that for the rest of the tour they’d been taking requests, but I simply wasn’t ready for how far they would go – this night, we had an entirely crowd-curated set list. Mixing hits with B-sides, never before heard-live tracks and the band working their asses off to keep a 63 song repertoire live in their heads, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a gig.
Starting out strong with ‘Pretty Girl’ and then my yelled suggestion ‘Leroy’, I am already absolutely delighted to be here tonight, Brendan’s voice sounds fantastic despite the recent illness, until he has to stop for a short cough-break after ‘Semolina’. “That’s the sound of pneumonia… it’s not Covid, I tested negative five times! This is just regular sick. See they love that!” he laughs as the crowd cheers.
Swigging from a paper coffee cup he quips “I’m actually completely drink and drug free, so when I get the chance to have medicine and 4 shots of espresso, I take it, woo! But yeah don’t do drugs, especially don’t do cocaine it fucks up your nose then you can’t sing the girl part to teenage dirtbag.”
Flowing into ‘Truffles’ with an extensive solo on the end, it’s more like we’re earwigging on a jam session than at a gig, I can’t rave enough about how collaborative and interesting it feels to not just be played *at*. “That was some lead singer gratuitous bullshit there… I decided I’m not a good guitarist halfway through.. was it OK? You don’t have to cheer you know” Brendan says, underestimating a UK crowd who immediately 180 to giggled booing instead. “Oh bollocks” he replies in a British accent.
‘F.B.S.M’ comes with a side story about how this forgotten song was rebuilt due to Neil (in the crowd)’s shitty flip phone recording at a previous gig, which of course galvanizes the record-everything crowd to hold their phones aloft for ‘Temporary Song’. It’s irritating in a small room, and they’ve memorised all 63 of these songs already my guy, put your phone down and enjoy the music.
Perhaps in karmic response, suddenly the stage goes dark as the lighting desk goes kaput and a very frantic fiddling begins to try and fix it. ‘Tipsy’ is played in a blueish twilight (totally useless for the iphone videographer crew, ha), but apparently Saviour tech ‘Archie’ manages to harrass a new board in place before ‘Hump’em n’Dump’Em’ which then morphs into some sort of disco rave situation. Following this, a full crowd karaoke ensues for their hit cover of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, which is weirdly poignant on this Remembrance Sunday, amid the news of Gaza – “We can make love not war”.
When someone yells out ‘Punk Ass Bitch’ I expect to be singing my head off, but they instead play their alternate lyrics version written for Jackie Chan’s Adventures, called ‘Chan’s The Man’. It’s cute, and again something unique… but I am damn well singing the OG lyrics over the top.
‘Marigold Girl’ is a bit of an emo dirge, but you know – so am I, so I liked it. “This song is about a Zombie apocalypse. This is my dead people song. This is a tour first, we haven’t done this yet in the 46 other shows we’ve played, it’s the only one we haven’t played so we’re gonna complete it”. Up next, ‘Sunshine’ is the absolute antithesis of the previous song and it sounds every bit as excellent as teenage me thought it might, back in 2000, listening on a silver CD walkman.
‘Wannabe Gangstar’ has everyone singing along again, into ‘Whole Amoeba’ and when someone yells out “PLAY THE LEICESTER SONG” the band quickly whip up a few bars of funk and call it ours. ‘London Sun’ and ‘Lemonade’, are two of my favourites that aren’t from their debut album and for a final show set of a long tour, plagued by illness and extensions – I am surprised and awed that the band continue to sound this good.
Someone calls out ‘Mr. Brown’ – another great debut album track, and then it’s time for *the song*, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Rocking a safari style bucket hat, Bendan says “So, Dirtbag… back in the charts… I don’t know how you did that but it’s down to you, thank you so much. Anyway, we know it’s your song now, not ours. Here we go”, and then it is a deafening crescendo of crowd singing through to the ‘girl part’ which hits the kind of sound barrier that makes neighborhood cats scarper and brain fluid fizz. “You wanna hear me do it?” BBB asks to a chorus of agreement, and thankfully most people understand the brief and let him actually sing the section before ending on a full house high. Oh, but not before we get some inserted bars from the returning MC Frontalot. I love it.
At almost 11pm a few people prematurely head for the doors, but the chants of “one more song” ring out and we get to hear ‘People’. “Thanks for supporting my illness these last few shows, your love is felt. Oh, yes we’ll definitely be back don’t worry” Brendan enthuses. “This song is about how it’s better to have more diverse people, and less of the same people” brings about cheers and clapping, and sadly, the end of an epic set.
This version of the band, although almost entirely changed from the original line-up, have an energy and connectivity that flows so organically that it truly feels as if you’re being swept by the tide of them. I can’t rave enough about how special and interesting this one-of-a-kind show was. Yeah, I know we were number 47 on the roster but, if you weren’t at this one, you’ll never see it again – and that, is the power of live music and a band who are brave enough to let their fans run the show.