Malcolm Young died earlier this week. As I squeeze into a space at the front at Soho institution the Borderline, the PA soundtrack is non-stop AC/DC. It’s a good metaphor for tonight’s headline, The Temperance Movement. They’re both gravel-throat fronted blues-rock bands with emphasis on the rock. They’re both at home in front of a stadium crowd (‘The Temp’ – as TTM frontman Phil Campbell calls them, supported The Rolling Stones on their 2014 European and 2015 US tours). They’re both an absolute blast live. As Malcolm and Angus fill the pre-support void I’m left wondering whether there might even be a tribute played tonight. If any band could do it justice it would be The Temperance Movement and they’ve proved they’re not averse to such activities. Last year at the O2 Forum Kentish Town Campbell and the band reminded us all that Ziggy played guitar. Tears flowed.
This short tour puts TTM back into micro venues, trying out new material from their forthcoming third album A Deeper Cut. The support are York two-piece Naked Six. Before they come on, I can’t look at their kick drum logo without thinking about the band Electric Six – in much the same way as a kid I could only think about the colour red when told not to. Suddenly I’ve got Gaybar in my head whilst A Whole Lotta Rosie is fed to my ears. It’s an intoxicating, if slightly weird mix. But when they come on, any capacity for thought between the ears is shattered by crashing guitar and belting drums. Naked Six are loud. Seriously loud.
The stage left half of the duo, Seb Byford plays a bastardised Les Paul and screams lyrics into the mic at close range. It all appears to come naturally to him and it should – it’s in his genes. He’s the son of inexhaustible Saxon front man, Biff Byford. Meanwhile, drummer Tom Witts manages the first half of the performance fully clothed but I don’t know how. I built up a sweat just watching him. By the mid-point, he’s dressed as all drummers in hard rock/grunge bands should be; half dressed. The music is good, the performance highly engaging and entertaining – and as there’s clearly currently plenty of appetite for ear-tingling two-piece bands it will be interesting to see where they are a year from now.
The Temperance Movement have had a slightly turbulent couple of years. Following a very successful debut album, guitarist Luke Potashnick left the band on the eve of the release of the follow up White Bear and before the year was out, drummer Damon Wilson followed suit. Friends of the band Matt White and Simon Lea occupied the spare guitarist and drummer roles – initially on a temporary (though now permanent) basis. Although commercially very successful and loved by fans, White Bear didn’t really do it for me. It certainly didn’t contain the level of light and shade of the eponymously titled debut – where good time party songs such as Take It Back sit comfortably alongside beautiful soul-drenched acoustic numbers like Smouldering and Lovers And Fighters. As the release of third album A Deeper Cut draws near, the band in its new guise have returned to the small venues in which the Mk 1 version found its feet. The ‘Small Rooms And New Tunes’ tour is an opportunity for the newly settled line up to recreate the buzz that surrounded the band when The Temperance Movement started in 2011. Every venue is sold out and there is a real sense of anticipation ahead of hearing the new material.
And we don’t have to wait long as the stabbing chords of Caught In The Middle (the one song on the new album pre-release that has dropped) start the show and ring around the Borderline basement. The band seem really content. Smiles abound and in short order, Phil Campbell is bouncing around in the slightly uncoordinated style the fans have come to know and love – as if he’s being controlled by a remote operator with a mischievous eye.
This maybe a showcase for the new stuff but lots of joyous older tunes are present and correct. Pride, a song from the first record that builds and builds is always excellent live and tonight is no exception. A triumvirate from the debut of Only Friend, Take It Back and Be Lucky had the crowd singing in waves.
Of course, there was lots of new material and on first inspection it seems to me to be a welcome return to that which shaped the band. Another Spiral was a brilliant building tune that shares the Pride DNA. Paul Sayer and Matt White traded licks until the former took command with a stunning, soulful solo to close the song out. Sayer really is a fine guitarist, something that perhaps goes unnoticed when Phil Campbell is catching the eye, strutting with a tambourine or maracas out front.
It’s not just vocals and handheld percussion that Campbell brings to the party. For new title track A Deeper Cut, he donned an acoustic guitar and for the first encore, Backwater Zoo (a fabulous funky groove that will surely become a live fans’ favourite) he banged out chords on a Rhodes piano.
At least Campbell’s time behind the Rhodes gave him a chance to have a rest – his shredded set list, once neatly taped to the floor was testament to the amount of gyrating that went on out front. The band closed with a stirring play of Battle Lines, one of three songs from White Bear. In the end, there was no AC/DC tribute. I think we can forgive them. This was a night for looking forwards after all.
The Temperance Movement’s new album, A Deeper Cut, is released in February 2018 and the band are heading back into full size venues through February and March to promote it.
Review & Photography by Simon Reed. The Temperance Movement at Borderline on 20th November 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk