Young, brash and fierce, but also prodigiously talented, The Blinders finally released their brilliant debut album, Columbia, back in September. Even in a year filled with excellent rock releases, this is many people’s pick as the best record of 2018, with clever wordplay overlaying the dark, alarming punkadelic guitar.
Opening with the catchy, jittery Gotta Get Thtough, it quickly rolls into its flow with single L’etat C’est Moi, about the arrogance and thirst for power of the world’s leaders – the title references a quote from Louis XIV, meaning ‘the state is me’. Hate Song describes how the state manipulates the people to follow its will. Brave New World, despite its horrifically wrong-context use in the TV advertising of a betting company, is a blistering punk anthem that captures how old dystopian literature, such as the Huxley book from the title, is becoming scarily relevant in the modern world. This is a theme that is returned to repeatedly throughout the record. Specifically, Brave New World makes reference to the insanity of Trump, the ‘idiot king’, building his wall out of pie. Possibly the highlight of the record, though, is Brutus, a seven-minute journey through multiple styles and tempos in the mould of a less grandiose Bohemian Rhapsody, staying utterly engaging throughout. Columbia is a truly essential record for a troubled world.
How appropriate, then, that the last stand for the Columbia tour should be here, below decks on the good ship Thekla. Offshore. Hidden. Safe, but for how long?
The immersion into the world of Columbia begins a good ten minutes before the band even come onstage. Instead of hearing Teenage Kicks for the umpteenth time, the crowd are listening to the sounds of this world, the rumbling of unspecified vehicles overhead, garbled radio messages. Then, Gene Wilder’s Pure Imagination comes on, only to be replaced a piped announcement over the radio – Welcome to Columbia – poetically telling us of the horrors of this place. Before a note has even been played, you are already in their world, looking over your shoulder, wondering who is watching.
Then The Blinders emerge onto the stage. Singer Thomas Haywood, donning the Johnny Dream facepaint and absolutely living his alter ego, spitting out every lyric as if it could be his last, firing out urgent punkadelic riffs. Bassist Charlie McGough, lifting his bass guitar to his face and aiming it at people as if it is a rifle, fixing his stare on the audience at all times to make damn sure they are paying attention. Drummer Matt Neale, pounding the skins in the background, making the room shake.
The album is clean and measured, but here it is amped up, fierce and intense. In some cases, extra sections are added to the songs from what is on the album, adding to the story that has already been told, making you wonder if there is more that you have missed. Great as the album is, it is quickly apparent that tonight is going to take it to another level.
Opening with a blistering rendition Gotta Get Through, the band grab hold of the crowd immediately. Even some early technical problems with Haywood’s guitar can’t ruin their flow, with McGough taking control so effectively you hardly even noticed what had happened. L’Etat C’est Moi is fierce and angry. Where No Man Comes and Hate Song are dark and alarming. An incredibly raw ICB Blues brings the already lively crowd into a frenzy. Pre-Columbia favourites Swine and Ramona Flowers are introduced into the mix and are just as explosive. The intensity is unrelenting – any breaks between songs are short and efficient, lest anyone’s attention should wander from the message being delivered in this room at this moment. It is utterly absorbing.
As the show nears its close, the band roll into the brilliant seven-minute rollercoaster of Brutus, and then, with no warning at all, they are gone. Haywood returns for a solo performance of Orbit (Salmon of Alaska), and then all is left are the sounds of Columbia drifting out of the PA again. There are no goodbyes, no ceremony, and it feels right. The Blinders are about the experience, the message, not about the adulation. This is an astonishing band with a lot to say, potentially only at the start of a very exciting journey.