It’s impossible to believe, even while watching & listening to UK band The Subways tear through their first-ever show in New York City at the sold-out Bowery Ballroom, that there are only three people on stage.
There was another three-piece that more than ten years ago sounded this big, this fast, this tight, this important, this Next Big Thing: Nirvana.
Yeah, I said it. Freals. And it’s absolutely no exaggeration. The Subways are the first band that channels Nirvana’s sound, but owns it outright and doesn’t ape them. Think of the emotional rawness of Bleach then imagine if Cobain & Co. played their instruments as well as they did on In Utero, and you’d have Young For Eternity, The Subways’ debut album.
The guitar riffs and rock-and-roll howls are big-Nirvana, but The Subways lyrically downshift away from that band’s cancer-eating, zeitgeisty angst: they don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They sing about sitting on the “City Pavement” with their friends, the demon boy meets devil girl of “One AM,” or the I-Only-Want-To-Be-With-You of “Holiday.”
[ADBLOCKHERE]They rock (so hard) like Nirvana, but lead guitar/vocals Billy Lunn also sounds like another band you may have heard of: Oasis. These two bands are among Billy’s admitted and obvious influences, and the album oscillates effortlessly between dreamy tidal pop, rave-up ditties, and the Rock. But if the best artists steal, then The Subways are Grand Theft Auto.
They took the stage at 11PM, less than a week into their first US tour. They want to duplicate their wild UK success, and opening the show with “With You” leaves zero doubt that they will. Within moments Lunn is on the drums; not playing them, but climbing & launching from atop them with a perfectly executed rock-and-roll leap. For the rest of the show he can’t stay off the furniture, and you know that there is no out-of-bounds in the venue.
Charlotte Cooper isn’t just pretty boilerplate or rock affirmative action or sexy chrome on her bass; she can f*cking play. And while she plays she doesn’t stop moving, ever. She’s a much-easier-on-the-eyes Angus Young – bouncing & spinning & whipping all over the stage, her head shaking up and down in perpetual loops, with occasional respites to sing along.
It takes only 1.5 songs for drummer Josh Morgan to go shirtless. He plays like he’s an alternative source of energy, possessed; between songs he slumps over his drum kit, sweaty head down, harnessing his power, coiling like a spring for the next salvo.
Ten seconds into “Mary” they make good on Oasis’ entire discography of broken promises; 20 seconds later they chorus their rave-up pop and it’s the Beatles with nary a wink or karaoke smirk.
The show stuck to the fast and furious, their inner nirvana. “I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say” is an impromptu mass singalong. For “Oh Yeah” Billy’s in the crowd to lead a rally – “I heard they don’t dance in New York City,” he teases (he’s right), then he works the floor, bounding upstairs to rouse the passive shoegazers seated in the balcony.
And in case anyone was comatose for the first 40 minutes of the show, “Somewhere” resuscitates. It’s twice the length of any of their other songs at over four minutes. Their epic. It’s a little bit metal and a whole lotta rock as architecture, a powerful and emotional and incredible song ending with Lunn’s passionate yowls over crunching power guitars. And hearing it live, the song went to eleventh heaven.
Their encore = “Rock And Roll Queen.” You thought Billy Lunn might do it at some point and he finally does it here – he launches into the crowd and is surfed on the arms of the fans to the back of the room & slowly forth again.
Retaking the stage he beams from ear to ear — air-guitaring to Oasis and Pixies and Nirvana and The Jam in his bedroom again, learning to play rock-and-roll with his best friends in the garage again — and with genuine excitement he says “I can’t believe we just did that!!!” But with them, it’s the beginning, and everything is possible.
After the show I got a response via email to my question (“how do you rock so hard?”) from Billy himself.
“Hi, I’m Billy from The Subways and I rock so hard because I like coffee, tea, scarves, violins, cellos, guitars, pianos, the paupers, the peepers, the needers, the squeelers, the honest, the bold, the silly, the pretentious, the genuine, the cold, the tepid, the warm, the hot, the scorching, the zeros.
“I like the records that people are embarrassed to admit to liking, I like the cool bands, I like boy bands, girl bands, pop bands, rock bands, expensive brands, second hands, the lazy, the enemies, the ones who make it all worthwhile.
“Do you like them too?”
Yeah, I like them too. Their album is a revelation. Their live show at Bowery was like witnessing history. And their music, their sound, their debut album is a exhilarating declaration of rock independence.