Watching gigs in The Academy 2 can be a little bit like trying to spot passers-by through a letter box. Unless you happen to be in the front row or two, the entire experience consists of eyeing the back of the person in front, while trying to catch the occasional glimpse of a band member’s face through the bobbing heads and pumping fists. Still, it’s in sweat box venues like this where reputations are made, and tonight’s matinee show – a bouncing, intense pop-rock showing that we sense the explosive energy of as much as actually seeing it – will go some way to pushing sophomore full-length ‘Bones’ into the eye line of the rockers’ young Irish fan base.
Live, Young Guns are a snarling, angular, speed-chord touting prospect. It’s been some time since they last set foot on Irish soil, yet the Londoners have an exuberant crowd chomping from their palms. The assembled spend the night shouting tracks from the set list before the band can introduce them, with emphatic singer Gustav Wood hanging from the spotlights and finishing the set surfing at head-smashing height through the masses. While ‘Bones’ – a melodic and lyrically varied, if slightly a-poetic take on life – clambers up a step on the agro scale in a live setting, it also loses a large chunk of its subtly: this is a big, bruising sound with no room left for the subtler quirks.
There are some notable highs tonight, not least in the title song itself (‘Bones’ is as fiery and as poignant as Young Guns get, at least lyrically), and what’s left in no doubt is that this is a band that can clobber their drum set in a seriously heady manner. The backing beat is superb, the guitars simplistic yet not unlovable, and the vocals aggressive, tangibly bitter and harsh. ‘The Weight Of The World’, an earlier single, is another clear highlight, pulling no punches whatsoever. What holds the band back, especially live, is a lack of range. While the fans are singing every note, to the uninitiated, the difference between Young Guns and, say, You Me At Six (Young Guns are arguably a touch harsher) or The Blackout (aside from The Blackout’s dual vocals), let alone between the first song of Young Guns set and the second is ill-defined and unconvincing. In short, while the sound is decent, there’s a notable lack of creativity.
The band is operating in a market that’s popular yet notably unrefined niche: it’s a stylistically limited form of rock that’s certainly not intrinsically bad, but somehow seems to lack substance. Clearly they have a market: Young Guns even manages to become a local Twitter trend after the gig, despite their being perhaps only 200 in attendance. For us, though, musically competent as the group are, the energy is just not enough to compensate for a failure, ultimately, to vary the live sound.
As published on Goldenplec.com, February 2012.