So, what was initially due to be a warm-up show ahead of a busy eight weeks for hometown boys Crazy Arm before they headed out on tour with Against Me! was reduced to almost a wake-like status a week earlier when the latter band cancelled all remaining tour dates in 2010. That being said, having seen Crazy Arm on numerous occasions over the last two years my expectations were still high both for a good evening and also that the headliners of this free gig would, as always, pull out all of the stops and produce what they are fast becoming renowned for: a blistering, high-octane set full of musicianship, emotion and a sense of "we will not be beaten down by anyone or anything."
A number of bands played, but to be honest, the only support of note were the Damerels, a local band I'd seen once before in 2007 when they supported the World/Inferno Friendship Society. A three-piece of drums, guitar and vocals, they play at times like a punkier version of the Hives, and with a tambourine-wielding singer occasionally making forays into the crowd, they captured people's attention quite easily.
Then the moment those in attendance had been waiting for: Crazy Arm take to the stage. Dressed, as usual, in black, the band appear, visually at least, very much as if they're set for a funeral to mourn the passing of what was a rather fantastic tour lineup sitting alongside the might of Fucked Up and Against Me!, with Darren Johns even making reference to it being a bad week for the band. He then lightened the mood by bringing attention to his recently "acquired" Wolverine-like facial hair before anyone else could! However, Crazy Arm were not here to wallow as they went straight into an instrumental introduction, "Poverty & Spit," and then bang, it's into a full-blown assault via the opening track "Asphalt" from the Born to Ruin album.
During the performance, "International Front" was renamed "Amnesty International Front" for the evening out of respect for members of Amnesty International who were there spreading their very important message. Other highlights included "Song of Choice," a cover of a Peggy Seeger anti-fascist song where the band were joined by a girl (sorry, didn't catch the name) who provided an extra vocal dimension to a poignant song that leapt straight into the thunderous "Hobocore Hoedown." The most recent new song, "Ambertown" went down extremely well and fans of the band can only hope that it will still be released in some format seeing as it was due to be on a split tour 7" with Against Me!. However, "Still to Keep" is the song that consistently rings out in my head when thinking of Crazy Arm and this was the highlight of the evening for me.
With Crazy Arm ending the set with "Broken by the Wheel," the crowd bayed for more and as Johns was looking exhausted from the heat generated in the room, he explained it would be a cover as their own songs have too many words in them given how knackered and hot he was. So we got Fugazi's "Waiting Room," where Crazy Arm delivered an adept and enjoyable version of a song that had the crowd jumping around with joy.
For me, Born to Ruin was the best release of 2009 and having listened to it on numerous occasions and also having seen the songs performed live for a couple of years, it is interesting to see how the band is still able to breathe new life into what could become quite commonplace and stale with frequent gigging.
To witness Crazy Arm in action sees that recorded work being enhanced so that the impact of the songs increases exponentially. Not only is the music part of the show but also the unbridled passion with which all four members of the band play their respective instruments and apply the vocals containing messages that are from the heart rather than being mere words to gain attention.
Up front and centre was Darren Johns, a veteran in comparison to the rest of the band but by no means a leader. On stage he gave his all, fingers all over the guitar and lungs bursting as he delivered his words with a passion and integrity that was inherent through all of their songs. Although delivering songs with serious subject matter, never far from the fore was a smile and the ability to make fun of himself, which made Darren Johns an engaging and likable frontman.
On the left of the stage was Jon Daily, a racing snake on guitar who contorted this way and that as he provided both a wall of sound and an element of subtlety in equal measures. On the other side of the stage was bassist Tim Rowing-Parker, the newest member of the band who, too, was a string bean of a man, capable of bending as only a child's toy should be able to do whilst giving Crazy Arm part of the pounding rhythm that forms a huge part of their music.
Behind the three axe-men of the apocalypse sits Simon Marsh, who hammered away at his drum kit with a ferocity that belied the skill quite obviously evident in his playing. To witness Crazy Arm is to see how a band can take some excellent material and transform it into something that takes on new life. The live stage is where this band needs to be heard, if possible, as they will never fail to give 100% in their attempt to deliver a set of passion, fury and musical mayhem.
You can see why Against Me! wanted them on the tour in the first place, as it would appear they have a lot in common in terms of general awareness and beliefs. It's a shame that what would have given Crazy Arm many new ears to play to has been cancelled. They deserved the wider audience the tour would have provided them.
The full set list was as follows:
- Poverty & Spit [instrumental]
- Still to Keep
- Blind Summit
- Song of Choice [Peggy seever cover; anti-fascist song]
- Hobocore Hoedown [instrumental]
- International Front
- Christ in Concrete
- Henry Fabian Flynn
- Broken by the Wheel
- Waiting Room