Marianas Trench’s 2015 hit Pop 101 is an insider’s guide to mainstream success. Advice like “a beat you can’t ignore”, “harmony in thirds, not fourths”, and their own spin on Tom Petty’s immortal “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” are certainly worth following. But the tongue-in-cheek single leaves out one essential tip: “put on a blinder of a show the fans won’t soon forget”.
And that’s exactly what the Canadian quartet deliver at Camden landmark KOKO. Despite playing a venue far more intimate than those they sell out back home, the Vancouver band certainly don’t dial back their performance. Livewire frontman Josh Ramsay, a natural born showman with the look and swagger of a young Iggy Pop plus the magnetism of Freddie Mercury, treats the 1400-capacity venue like it’s Wembley Stadium.
So after his dramatic, but physically restrained, delivery of six-minute set opener Astoria, he ditches the hooded robe obscuring his face to reveal a punk-rock uniform of equally skinny leather trousers and tie (but no shirt). And from that point on the singer/guitarist/cheerleader/dervish barely stands still, alternately waving his arms, pointing at the most rowdy audience members, sticking out his tongue, strutting, pogoing on the spot, rocking the mic stand, playing licks on his transparent Fender Strat, leaning into the crowd from the barrier, striking pose after pose, dropping to his knees, reaching for the roof, or deflecting a punter’s song requests with a sassy “I don’t come to your work and tell you what to do”.
It’s only during a solo performance of bonafide lighter anthem Good To You, which has him trading lines with the raucous crowd, that Ramsay actually stands still. It’s also the only time that his dynamic voice, which often reaches a Michael Jackson falsetto, isn’t supported by the powerful harmonies of lead guitarist Matt Webb and bass player Mike Ayley. Far more than backing singers, their vocal interplay with Ramsay doesn’t just add colour and texture, their voices literally carry the soulful Prince-like jam This Means War while the frontman enthusiastically mouths along in the background. They’re his lyrics after all.
As co-writer of the once-ubiquitous Carly Rae Jepsen chart topper Call Me Maybe, the group’s sole composer certainly knows that a band can’t simply rely on a blistering stage show. Without killer songs, any musician’s days are numbered, and there’s good reason Marianas Trench have been around since 2001. Whether it’s the big beats and retro rock ‘n roll guitar of the swinging Yesterday, glorious power ballad Fallout, snotty punk of Here’s To The Zeros, or hand-clapping foot-stomping Stutter, the group drop one seismic song after another.
Yet it’s set closer No Place Like Home, a Bohemian Rhapsody for the 21st century, that best shows off not just Ramsay’s writing talents, but the group’s live prowess. Complete with Queen-scale harmonising on the a capella opening lines, the almost-eight-minute epic shifts gears like a Mercury classic, without ever losing momentum as the performers, and especially drummer Ian Casselman, unite to blow away the fans one last time.
Supporting Marianas Trench at KOKO were Hertfordshire quartet Club Drive. Charismatic frontman Aaron Trowbridge, bassist Stephen Ford, drummer Christian Murphy, and guitarist Tommy O’Malley performed a tight set of summery funk-pop gems that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Maroon 5’s debut album, the 10-million selling Songs About Jane.
Highlights included the smooth-as-caramel Spare Time, soundtrack to sunset on a beach Voyager, and gutsy Dangerous, which all help to explain why the young band have already caught the interest of Radio 1’s BBC Introducing team.
Live review of Marianas Trench @ KOKO by Nils van der Linden on 12th May 2017. Photography by Edyta K.