The Brickmakers, Norwich September 19, 2022
by Owen Willis
Following two weeks of postponed events and televised mourning, even the most flag-fawning must have been desperate to witness anything even remotely subversive.
So as Grand Theft Audio frontman Jay Butler begins berating the audience for being “sick freaks” no more than four minutes into the evening’s first set, nearly everyone in attendance lets out an audible sigh of relief.
With a muscular mid-tempo bounce, powerhouse drumming and aggressive vocal delivery sitting somewhere between rapping and barking, the band’s Transplants-esque sound seems tailor-made for an early noughties Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack.
GTA’s confrontational energy is personified perfectly by Butler’s offstage antics – his laser-focused ability to invade the spaces of the venue’s most uninterested people produces hilariously awkward results, conjuring facial expressions out of the most disturbed that are otherwise reserved for when they’re ignoring homeless people outside the station.
In direct contrast to the sardonic display just witnessed, Scott Sorry offers a burst of pure sincerity. This could risk being a hard sell, especially when juxtaposed with the tongue-in-cheek credo of the rest of the bill.
However, cringe this is not. Switching between sounds as varied as D-Beat hardcore to Cheap Trick-style pop-rock at a moment’s notice without ever losing any momentum, the five-piece give the evening’s most passionate performance.
Sorry’s songwriting is distinct yet idiomatic, with effortless dynamic switches and atypical chord progressions perfectly balanced with infectious choruses that have the whole room singing – regardless of how familiar they were with him beforehand.
Having beaten the brain tumour he was diagnosed with five years ago, there’s nothing half-hearted when Sorry expresses his gratitude to the crowd, stating that he genuinely didn’t know if he’d get the chance to do this again. Tonight’s set is not just a triumph but a celebration.
CJ Wildheart opens with a blistering one-two of thrash and groove-metal tunes from his solo material – the unexpectedly frenetic drumming and tremelo picked riffing immediately upping the ante when it comes to heaviness.
What proceeds is an autobiographical back-catalogue-spanning set drawn from more than 30 years of releases and nearly as many genre-bending outfits that CJ has put his name to, be it the aforementioned thrash of his solo output or the indie-adjacent alt rock of his mid-90s outfit Honeycrack.
Whilst such an odyssey through one’s own collected works could come across as self-congratulatory, the genuine love of the creations he has been part of, and the cult following that he and the wider Wildhearts family has gathered, more than counteracts this.
This following is deserved – be it the four-minute angular riff-fest in the middle of The Wildhearts’ B-side O.C.D. or the comedic yet righteous anti-fascist rage of 50 Percent Indian, CJ’s musical and lyrical imprint on all that he has touched is instantly recognisable.
Having chided the audience for “being able to go a lot crazier 30 years ago”, it’s unsurprising that it’s the arrival of the two other core members of The Wildhearts to join CJ and bring the evening to a close that solicits the loudest reaction from the room.
The spectre of The Wildhearts ultimately hangs heavy over the whole evening. But whilst that band’s future has been cast into doubt by the sole member not in attendance, the sense of camaraderie evident not just between every musician who graces the stage tonight but also amongst those who have been following them for more than three decades is perfectly encapsulated by the words of Sorry – it’s “a real love-in”.