Photo of a band member from Shop Front Heroes

Shop Front Heroes
Spin the Black Circle
Saturday 11th May

When was the last time you saw a stadium rock show?  Not some greatest hits money hoovers bashing out nostalgia, I mean a good one. Springsteen doing 3 hours at The Millenium Stadium and taking requests. Pearl Jam prompting  a feeling of togetherness in 60,000 people simultaneously. Foo Fighters pushing tangible waves of vitality and joy from the front of Wembley Stadium all the way to the back. You know what I mean. Last time for me? At Spin The Black Circle in Worcester (capacity 35). I suppose I better explain…

It’s simple really, I saw Shop Front Heroes and heard their unique, epic, widescreen music. They were like Radiohead playing with the grandiosity of Queen, or Queen playing art rock songs. Actually maybe Elton John playing Arcade Fire tunes. Actually, definitely like Ziggy Stardust era Bowie covering The Flaming Lips. Well, you get the picture. Shop Front Heroes had all the artful creativity you could want: the buzzing twin guitars, the angular drumming, the thunderous bass holding it all down. But this was combined with a panoramic musicality that seemed to stretch the walls of Spin The Black Circle out and out until it felt as big as the San Siro. Everything was played and sung with sincere conviction. Hearts on sleeves, everything out front, nothing held back. The harmony vocals are high and soulful, almost feminine, Stevie the singer commands the attention of the room with the charisma of Freddie Mercury at his totally unself-conscious peak. Dressed in a poker player’s visor, a fake sheepskin jerkin and massive shades straight off the set of Superbad, he tops it off with facial hair a Scandinavian porn star would be proud of. But don’t be fooled by the head turning look, this isn’t superficial. Stevie delivers the strong melodies with soulful passion that tipples over into falsetto, there’s almost a soul diva’s element in his singing voice.

And the songs? Well, here’s the trick: they combine that widescreen sound and the art rock musicality with intimate stories from the heart. “Kicking In (Jonny)” is a description of alcoholism so full of detail: “We’ll shake shake against the morning / The fear starts kicking in / Your brave face ain’t fooling no-one / Til the booze starts kicking in”, which is followed by a wah guitar solo that strips the wallpaper from your wall.  “The Greatest Hits” is a positive song of regret and growing up “The one’s we’ve missed / our greatest hits / we’ve lost some on the way” Stevie sings, as the song builds from wistful reflection to a uplifting wall of sound that ends with a few bars of the famous drum beat that begins Bowie’s “5 Years”, the first song on his “Ziggy Stardust” album.  Appropriately, “Viva Celestial Viva Terrestrial” starts like a Ziggy song with Stevie urging “Keep Digging / Keep giving all you’ve got” as the music rises upwards, lifting us with it.

There’s a full cast of characters bringing these songs to life: the Chad Smith lookalike in a Cramps t-shirt on drums; two twin white t-shirt guitarists who sound like Slash one minute then John McGeoch the next; and a bass player who looks like he’s stepped out of Faith No More, complete with scarlet paisley bandanna dangling from his back pocket.  As the late spring sun set outside, it cast a golden light through the window to the right of the band, throwing their profiles in dramatic relief and reflecting brilliant, shining gold off the large painting of a skeletal Virgin Mary icon that’s on the wall next to the stage area at Spin The Black Circle.  It seemed to sum it up: epic, personal, panoramic, heartfelt.  Shop Front Heroes – intimate stadium rock. 

By: Eastside Jimmy

Note: background painting by Miss Hilton Ink – @misshiltonink

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