Carling Academy, Oxford
2nd October 2008
I wasn’t really expecting to like The Subways. The Welwyn Garden City trio’s first album, Young for Eternity, was released in 2005 and completely passed me by in a flurry of mid-2000s post-punk garage rock and bands with plural names all starting with “The”. Since then however, singer and guitarist Billy Lunn and bassist Charlotte Cooper have split up, Billy’s had nodules on his vocal chords and they’ve recorded a second album in LA with Butch Vig. All these things have influenced the result, this year’s All or Nothing, a record which has made me regret my ignorance a little.
Tonight’s set neatly highlights the contrast between the first and second albums. The audience favourite Oh Yeah, epic With You and 60s-esque dollop of Ash-like nostalgia Mary are generally more lyrically naïve, whereas the latter album’s Kalifornia and new single Shake! Shake! demonstrate some social awareness; introspection is everywhere, especially on Always Tomorrow, I Won’t Let You Down and the more acoustic Strawberry Blonde. Butch Vig’s production has resulted – or maybe coincided – with a heavier sound; free download single Girls and Boys is the heaviest they get tonight, though they never sacrifice a tune for noise.
There’s no lack of energy; Billy obviously thinks he’d be too hot if he wore a top, which lends him a slightly dodgy Iggy Pop vibe, and Charlotte’s hairdo takes quite a thrashing. Charlotte and Billy obviously still share a certain synergy; their voices complement each other quite sweetly and they look to be still at ease with each other professionally, which is quite heartening in the resentment- and anger-filled world of rock.
They finish with Rock & Roll Queen, a three-year-old song which must be their best known, by virtue of its (and the band’s) best-known appearance – in this year’s Guy Ritchie film, Rocknrolla. It’s anthemic and catchy – and ticks all the popularity boxes while not really being structurally, musically or lyrically their best hour. Their extended performance of it allows Billy the opportunity to crowd surf and orchestrate a deafening screaming competion between both halves of the audience, which goes on for ages and leaves everyone on a high.