For Chicago rock band The Orwells, 2014 was the year in which their star truly began to ascend; January saw an eventful appearance on US talk show ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ where a rowdy performance was embraced by an enthusiastic host who requested an encore; despite its rarity as a demand of his musical guests, Letterman was left disappointed due to guitarist Matt O’Keefe’s assault on his instrument being such that he destroyed all six of his guitar strings. Support slots in January and February on Arctic Monkeys’ twelve date US arena tour followed and, far from beholden to their headliners for the opportunity, subsequent criticism of the synchronised repetition of the Sheffield band’s heavily produced live shows revealed The Orwells as fresh faced upstarts with an altogether more spontaneous, not to mention riotous, approach to live performance.
The summer saw the release of their second record Disgraceland and it is in harmony with the album’s three opening tracks that tonight’s sell-out performance at The Fleece begins; ‘Southern Comfort’ with its prurient lyricism (“give me a smile and take off your pants”) sets a hedonistic tone apt for the celebratory Friday night atmosphere while the boisterous choruses of ‘The Righteous One’ highlight the bellowing power of leonine frontman Mario Cuomo’s impressive vocal pipes. In introduction to The Black Keys style riffing of ‘Dirty Sheets,’ Cuomo, who chooses to adopt a knowingly odd stage manner ranging from woozy apoplexy to zoned-out insouciance, declares Bristol the “prettiest city in England”; such is the disingenuous tone of automaton weirdness one is willing to bet that he says that to all the cities.
Tonight’s audience, full of almost worryingly young fledglings that amass a probable combined age of roughly 103, are in thrall to The Orwells’ brand of tuneful garage rock and it is their reaction of chaotic enjoyment that provides the evening’s most charming spectacle. The crowd surfing begins in earnest during ‘Let It Burn’ while a young fan, with the help of other members of the crowd, seems determinedly ceiling bound as he attempts to achieve the acme of one of the venue’s reinforcement beams.
As featured in previous live performances, a desultory blast of ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ serves as an incongruous bridge between ‘Halloween All Year’ and ‘Suspended’ while, in an apparent first, a breakneck ‘Bathroom Tile Blues’ is delivered “twice as fast, just for you”; despite inducing the requisite mania for a crowd surfer to plummet to the ground, the amphetamine paced experiment leaves one of Disgraceland’s standout tracks sadly sounding rather throwaway.
Cuomo joins in with the crowd surfing as he launches himself off stage and is transported by a sea of callow hands as he simultaneously delivers the vocal to ‘Gotta Get Down.’ Stage invasions then become de rigueur as The Orwells’ increasingly irked stage manager aggressively dispatches a series of invaders with an almost disproportionate zeal; even Cuomo is chastised for his incitements after the pandemonium reaches its height during ‘Mallrats (La La La)’.
The band return for a two song encore, the first of which is ‘Who Needs You,’ a heavily Strokes influenced garage rock thrash; featuring a cascading guitar line and an echo of Bill Hicks rebelliousness in the lyrics “You better burn that flag/cause it ain’t against the law,” it is The Orwells’ most outstanding tune; taking the microphone from Cuomo, a stage invader gets to deliver the lyric in question before hurling himself back into the ferment of the front row. To the chant of “Orwells, Orwells,” the band deliver one last song and a final chance to submit to the madness.
In reviews of Disgraceland, there seemed a dichotomy of opinion based around disagreement regarding whether The Orwells sound better live or on record. It is clear from tonight’s evidence that the live forum is the domain in which they, or indeed anything approaching good old fashioned rock music, will flourish; especially when it incites such beautiful, joyous abandon as this.