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New Model Army (live at Camden Rocks)

New Model Army live at Camden Rocks 2015 (Picture: Kyle Perfect)The Jazz Café, London
30 May 2015

A couple of years ago I had the very great pleasure of interviewing New Model Army‘s angry yet affable front man Justin Sullivan for this esteemed organ (matron!), and we got to talking about venue sizes. “All of us”, said he, “when we go to see our favourite bands, we want to see them in the old Marquee, or in some 400-capacity venue”, and I felt sad that the days of seeing the Army at the old Marquee were long gone. And now here I am tonight, watching them in Camden’s “compact and bijou” Jazz Cafá, which apparently only holds 300, and that’s even BETTER!

They’re playing as part of the day-long Camden Rocks festival, in which twenty venues are colonised by 200 bands, all of whom I’ve missed due to either still being at work or them being on at the same time as NMA, who I am resolutely NOT missing. And with nearly half of those 300 people actually upstairs looking down from the wrap-around balcony, this is by far the smallest venue I’ve seen them in in 26 years of fandom. Fuck, I’ve seen NMA on STAGES bigger than this venue.

It’s always interesting to see what set a band will choose for a festival — usually they go the safe “greatest hits” route, because you never know who’s watching you and you’re not gonna expect them all to be up to speed. Or will they go intimate and ballady, in keeping with the surroundings? In the event, they do neither — perversely, and rather wonderfully, they seem to deliberately bring out their most epic, cinematic, wide-screen work for the occasion.

New Model Army live at Camden Rocks 2015 (Picture: Kyle Perfect)

They open with “Stormclouds”, one of the more traditionally rocky pieces on their stunning Between Dog And Wolf album, its percussion-driven sense of wonder building to an epically frenzied crescendo, then it’s into the Technicolor realms of social-critique road movie “States Radio”. If Wim Wenders was really fucking cross, this is what his movies would sound like. A couple of people in front of me, apparently new to the band, are looking round in consternation as a sea of arms start flailing in the air. They seem to wonder for a moment just what it is they’ve got themselves into, before realising that whatever it is they kinda like it, and by the end they’re moshing with the rest of us. These are huge songs, and in a tiny venue they seem orders of magnitude bigger than ever. Massive.

New Model Army live at Camden Rocks 2015 (Picture: Kyle Perfect)

And on they come, their only real concession to intimacy being the gorgeous “No Greater Love”, and even that is in the grand tradition of Townes Van Zandt‘s “Kathleen” or Neil Young‘s “A Man Needs A Maid,” sentiment and introspection played out against the most apocalyptic of musical settings. Justin’s affectionate disdain for London, and Camden in particular, is fairly evident, as he dedicates two consecutive songs to the place — the claustrophobic paranoia of “Get Me Out” followed by “High”‘s dream of wide-open spaces and the perspective that comes with distance. (Comics fans take note — this song always reminds me of Frank Quitely‘s classic cover for All-Star Superman issue 1, because they both share that sentiment, and they both articulate it far better than I can here).

New Model Army live at Camden Rocks 2015 (Picture: Kyle Perfect)

The sense of apocalypse is never far away tonight, though, as they give us a take on “Angry Planet” which is like watching every disaster movie you’ve ever seen all at once, only someone’s drastically improved the scripts and soundtrack. Every time he hits the chorus with “and the pressure moves the mountains, seven billion and counting” the place erupts like that final dreaded Yellowstone event, but far more joyful than I imagine that will be. And of course the only way to finish a set like this is with “I Love The World”, in which the titular planet finally DOES end.

And as the gig does the same, I’m thinking “what? They hardly played at all” until I see a copy of the setlist and realise that yes, they did indeed play twelve songs, and yes, they were on stage for a decent amount of time. And that’s when I realise that physics is a really weird thing, and that if an observer is put in a tiny box and bombarded with awesome music, the subjective passage of time will speed up immensely. Or maybe it’s just that the best things come in small packages. Either way, a fantastic time was had by all. Straight on for the days ahead!

-Words: Justin Farrington-
Pictures: Kyle Perfect-

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