Pissed Jeans - Live At Electric Ballroom, London

A sensory overload

Charged air, heavy with sweat, beer and anticipation – but mainly sweat. This is what greets the latecomer to rare-tourers Pissed Jeans’ (surely) biggest-ever headline show on this side of the pond. Clash arrives with barely time enough to battle to the bar prior to the arrival of Matt Kosloff and his band of raucous punk-rock reprobates.

And when they begin, any doubts regarding this Pennsylvania quartet’s ability to own this comparatively cavernous venue – the previous night they played Leeds’ 400-cap Brudenell; the Ballroom comfortably holds 1,100 punters – are dispelled with a fury that comes on as part punk tradition, part comedy showcase.

Frontman Kosloff writhes and wriggles like Garth Algar battling against a bad romance. He pops (most of) the buttons from his shirt within seconds; later, he’s jiggling what slight flabbiness he has, in a quasi-sexual display of preening peacock proportions. He goads his audience, albeit with good humour: on how Leeds was much better than here, mostly.

He might have a point – much of the visible enthusiasm for this set is preserved for the front rows, the majority of the clustered beards-and-tattoos crowd (a terrible generalisation, but one which resonates with no little legitimacy on a cursory scan of the room) content to nod along approvingly, occasionally stamping a foot or pumping a fist.

But that’s appropriate: this isn’t music, as powerful as it is, for the here and now, for the younger-buck brigade. Its roots are distinctly grunge-like, crossing over into primitive US hardcore, and striking into a middle ground between The Jesus Lizard and Black Flag.

And yet, it’s more than pastiche. It has to be, or else Pissed Jeans would be playing some grimy bunker rather than the circuit-established Electric Ballroom, a venue that embraces a diverse roster of bookings – upcoming, both Willy Moon and The Darkness (not on the same bill, it must be stressed). It’s through Kosloff that the band’s most contemporary themes, usually delivered on universal-of-appeal narrative tangents, are transmitted. Simply, he is one of his generation’s finest lyricists.

That mightn’t be entirely apparent as he bawls his way through ‘Half Idiot’, one of the more violently convulsive numbers from 2009’s Sub Pop-released ‘King Of Jeans’ LP. But as he drawls graphic imagery of workplace bereavements across the slow-motion sludge of ‘Cafeteria Food’, and describes in detail the minute thrills of finding joy in the mundane everyday chores of ‘Pleasure Race’, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a thread of singular inspiration running through this man’s creative DNA.

Beers are flung above attendees’ heads. It’s a little wild out there, away from the safety of the bar-siders. Koslof loses a sleeve. His belt becomes tight around his gut. He purposefully slips down to a horizontal plane. Kicks a foot out. Swings the microphone stand. If you saw this sort of behaviour in the street, you’d go back indoors and call the authorities.

But the only law that Kosloff and company follows, up there, is one of delivering the most memorable show they can.

An incredibly intense ‘Bathroom Laughter’ is met with shrieks of enthusiasm; so, too, is ‘Romanticize Me’. These are probably Pissed Jeans’ most-recognisable numbers. Both appear on this year’s tumultuous fourth LP, ‘Honeys’, an album that truly stands apart from much of 2013’s rock crop by virtue of its absolute commitment. You can hear the sweat, the soul, being spilled onto the recording.

And, live, you can smell it… and taste it, and feel it. It’s too easy, maybe, to become one with it. But when it spits you out, you’ll do anything to return to the source. Hope for these men to tour again before long.

Words: Mike Diver

Photos: Marco Micceri

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