While many youths of a similar age are grappling with the pressure of GCSE’s, The Strypes, an energetic rhythm and blues quartet from Ireland, have found themselves here, under the blinding glare of the Islington 02 Academy’s stage lights and the intense scrutiny of expectant fans and label bigwigs. The quartet’s ascent during 2013 has been eye-wateringly rapid, shunning their local village fete appearances in favour of packing out venues across the UK with an ever-growing legion of fans. Somewhat predictably, the music press has pounced upon them, heaping expectation on their skinny shoulders in the form of comparisons to The Beatles and The Stones and, of course, championing them as ‘The Saviors Of The British Music Industry’. We’ve heard that one before. On the strength of tonight’s performance, the teens are coping admirably.
It’s a typically sticky, humid summer evening in the capital and, rather fittingly, the PA oozes track after track of sultry, sun-kissed sixties nostalgia. Raglans are up first and, despite their material sounding a little at odds with the headline act, they possess enough enthusiasm to rouse a sleepy crowd. It is typical indie fare, sticking predictably to a Bastille-inspired formula, so it’s simply a matter of time before they find themselves within the clutches of Radio 1.
Clad in sharp, timeless suits, The Strypes exude the kind of youthful exuberance that simply cannot be faked. It is undeniably infectious, as they launch into opening track ‘Mystery Man’ at breakneck speed and refuse to slacken the place for just over an hour. They are louder and brasher than first expected. Bassist Peter O’Hanlon flings his blonde locks about like a young Roger Daltrey, whereas Josh McClorey, guitarist, is the band’s pin-up, clearly reveling in the limelight. It is only lead vocalist Ross Farrelly who seems a little overwhelmed. Sporting his usual dark glasses (“his future’s so bright that he has to wear shades”, we’re reliably informed) and floppy fringe combo, he has tinges of a Gallagher brother about him, but too often ends up looking too pedestrian as the rhythm section assault our senses. It is only in the last half of the set that we see Farrelly at his nonchalant, sneering best, his voice brimming with venom, as he eyeballs the crowd menacingly. The unveiling of a new track, ‘Angel Eyes’, is most welcome; a slinking, sludgy romp that boasts the kind of monstrous riff that should make every sixteen year old shit his pants, except McClorey is actually the individual teasing it from his guitar. A triple salvo of ‘Blue Collar Jane’, ‘I Wish You Would’ and ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’ quickly follows and is delightfully boisterous, the former proving particularly fruitful as it ushers in the first echoes of a singalong. ‘Route 66’ is a worthy closer too, an irresistible dollop of restless garage rock that heralds the first mosh pit of the night and caps a riotous set in particularly bruising style.
The venue is a cavernous, shadowy sweatbox, clearly chosen to transport us back to a time when teen boppers scorched even the tiniest of stages. And scorch, they certainly do. The instrumentation on offer is, quite simply, astonishing. The Academy overflows with snarling bass lines and seemingly unstoppable riffs, the teens taking great pleasure in showboating their freewheeling fingers at every available opportunity. Farrelly adds some deft touches of harmonica into the mix, as Evan Walsh keeps the clattering heart of The Strypes pumping from the back of the stage with remarkable ease. There is even time for the boys to swap instruments, a spectacle that should feel tired, yet they manage to pull it off, their faces etched with the unmistakable spirit of childish glee.
It’s not so much the revolution that many have been claiming, but it is certainly not a rehash of past glories either. It is a revival, sure, and an exciting one at that, and, as I stumble back out into the familiar haze of the twenty first century, I can’t help but feel that The Strypes are at the forefront of something thrilling. You’re about to get excited about music again. Now, if you could just remove those dark glasses, young man…