Ex-Gallows and Pure Love frontman Frank Carter is one of the most exciting performers to witness live. Never predictable, with hardcore punk band Gallows he was an explosion of vitriolic rage, lyrics streaming out of him to vent pain and nihilistic despair. With Pure Love, the pendulum swung to the other extreme as Carter flirted with pop and found himself to be a brilliantly round peg in a square hole.
Thanks to collaborator and band mate, former Heights guitarist Dean Richardson he may have found a successful carrier for his divided musical heart and a new sound. With this new incarnation come new fans. Tonight, Brixton Academy is filled with a more diverse crowd than just loyal hardcore fans looking to cluster in an oceanic mosh pit whose behaviour is as uncertain as a stormy sea. Tonight will not be about the crowd, it will be about Frank.
House lights drop to black to a cacophonous cheer. The theatre is filled with a deafening heartbeat bass line underpinned with a razor-sharp scraping sound. In flickering explosions of strobe light Frank arrives silhouetted on stage like a fighter; focused and blinkered by a hooded sweatshirt, spangled with stars. Whatever is coming next, you can feel the restraint of Carter’s contained energy, the tension in the coil. Flinging back his hood to reveal a scribble of neon highlighter yellow hair and a maniacal grin, lapping up the applause before the band tear into track Primary Explosive, a melodic and pacy punk number which lends itself well for Carter to show some personality and set the tone.
On Rotten Blossom and Trouble guitarist Dean Richardson has a chance to scream out above Tank Barclay’s reverberating bass. The closest Carter brings the set to full blown hardcore fever is on track Juggernaut. Spewing out “Even on my own/I’m a juggernaut!” he stomps circles around the stage like a cocksure and insolent child, sneering at the audience in joking collusion. This is a huge, crowd pleasing song. Holding a strobe light above his head and placing it directly in front of him on the floor he leans into it with threat and menace before launching himself into the crowd.
Returned carefully to his stage he reaches out to the crowd “How do you feel?! We’re a week and half into tour and you lot have the best energy I have ever felt.” This small in stature man has gained complete mastery over the audience. The truth is, the entire venue is filled with his energy, his raw expression and charisma. During the song Vampires he stops partway into the song urging the crowd to roar for more, the response from the crowd is real and sincere as they find fresh volume and force in their lungs and go crazy.
The infectious kinetic power of Carter has everyone on their feet from the front row to the gods clapping and chanting out the chorus. His former persona of fearful intimidator has been replaced by that of a joyful rogue, overwhelmed by his own power.
Stopping the flow of music for a moment Carter dedicates the next song, “to important people in the audience, who constantly have to deal with misogyny and sexual harassment, ladies, this song is for you. If you have ever wanted to crowd surf, but don’t want the invasion of being touched inappropriately… Now is your chance to crowd surf without fear, in a safe and respectful environment. Guys if you don’t treat these ladies with respect they deserve I will split your heads open with my bare fucking hands.” Has crowd surfing ever been ‘safe and respectful’ for anyone? It doesn’t matter.
This act is one of many timely acts which elegantly express what kind of artist is on stage, what kind of person they are and how they want their music to be experienced. It’s impressive. The crowd have been given their instructions and they abide. Streams of women seem to float to front of the stage for Wildflowers. By contrast, and to stop the whole experience turning into a politically correct mush-fest Richardson takes the opportunity to go full animal on guitar thrashing his head in such tight circles that watching him makes you want to fetch him a chiropractor. It’s all a surreal sight.
For lolloping track Acid Veins the stage lights dip down to blue as Carter swings his mic like a lasso hopping from foot to foot with unchecked excitement. His voice is remarkably clear and tuneful with more emotion than the recorded material. He channels raw emotion calling out, “I wanna feel/Give me love.” Dropping the pace a notch makes a natural segue for slinky renditions of Real Life and Spray Paint Love.
The stage is lit in flaming orange and red with stripes of yellow ready for a theatrical performance of witty well matched movement he fills the stage with a vast presence for a song that he explains is a “celebration of the beauty in the world. It was written at a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live.” It is reassuring then to see him lurching and bouncing around the stage to the ironically titled God is my Friend. There are moments which threaten to tip over into all out Emo. His rendition of Bluebelle a “Song for one of the most beautiful females in the world”, his daughter Lula. It is a soft short, sweet lullaby-like ballad which just escapes self-indulgence.
The energy is re-ignited for Jackals by a skipping, high-stepping and prancing Carter. It appears no paring down the band’s catalogue has been made as they plough through tracks from albums Blossom and new release Modern Ruin: Loss, Thunder and Fangs seem to blur together with only the shifting plinths of the stage and a spectrum of lighting to differentiate between them. The crowd dance and scream, mesmerised.
Carter announces the next song as being, “Dedicated to all the people who went to a gig and didn’t get a chance to go home. This is for the people who died at Bataclan and MENA [Manchester Arena]. This is about terrorists and how I think they are all cowards and fucking scum.” Cue a brilliantly ear bleeding rendition of Paradise, which concludes with Carter ineffectively hammering his mic stand on the centre stage plinth. Mic stands not being hugely breakable gives this gesture a slightly comical feeling of futility. Not so rock ‘n’ roll.
The only downbeat moment comes from Neon Rust which by contrast threatens to turn into a dreary Emo ballad but for the soul and integrity of Carter’s vocal. Standing solitary in the turquoise light, the mere presence of him sends the crowd into a roar of adoration.
To set the mood for more contemplative songs such as Beautiful Death, the band leave the stage but for Richardson and Carter sitting front and centre for an acoustic spell. The house lights down, Carter instructs the audience to light the performance with the lights from their phones. Again this may not have the desired effect as light from screens of a crowd of devices in a contained area are actually brighter than the house lights, illuminating everything in a glaring blast of unforgiving blue light. But the music is enjoyable, and Carter seems visibly moved as he pauses mid song to take the moment in. He sings a last line or two and with a solemn, “thank you very much” leaves the stage. An eerie silence holds before the compulsory slow clap for an encore.
A jagged, racing guitar riff burns through the clapping to summon the band back for a generous encore of Devil Inside of Me, Snake Eyes, Lullaby and I Hate You.
It’s hard to say where this new-found recognition will take Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. As a performer who is still making peace with his past, who is finding his way through the challenges of mental illness (which resulted in the initial postponement of the tour) and the trials and joys of new parenthood, he lives with the double-edged sword of music as a therapeutic process and the dangers of the private made public. But as he said in his own words, “It’s taken me twelve years and three bands, but I knew I would headline this stage and own it.”
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes continue touring with dates in the UK throughout December before extensive international dates.
Photography by Paul Lyme and Live Review by Sarah Sievers of Frank Carter at Brixton Academy on 8th December.