It seems 2014 has been tru-punx Johnny Foreigner’s year. Having been slowly building their fanbase since their 2008 debut Waited Up Til It Was Light, with their new album You Can Do Better the band have blown up in a small but substantial way. Critical appraisals, festival appearances, support slots for emo-heavyweights Owls and signing with US label Lame-O Records has made Johnny Foreigner bigger than ever and as such, tonight the new fans and the faithful cram into The Flapper, bubbling with anticipation. Whenever they play a homecoming show, fans know they’re in for a treat, and that’s without the end-of-set baked goods that have been promised.
Before any cake is produced, we are entertained by the support bands. Hampshire’s Noyo Mathis are on first and proceed to delight and confuse the audience with their three piece math rock assault. They open with the complex yet concise ‘Heisenberg’ from their Ages EP and as much as the audience want to dance and move, its very hard to when the band’s music halts, stutters and restarts so much. Their sound is impressively immense and layered for a trio and obviously influenced by Joan of Arc and American Football, and it’s understandable why they have been chosen as support.
Whenever you are confronted with a two-piece guitar/drum band, it is very easy to compare them to the most famous band to utilize this set-up: The Carpenters. Playlounge thankfully dodge this comparison by playing bass drum-heavy, feedback soaked shoegaze. The guitarist having his back to the crowd, producing squalling feedback during the limited song gap applause does nothing to warm anyone to their abrasive music. Maybe a distorted cover of ‘(They Long To Be) Close to You’ would have gained them some more appreciation.
Johnny Foreigner arrive on stage to a heroes’ welcome. They open with the keyboard-led softness of ‘You Can Do Better’, which seems like an odd choice, until you realise that this is a calm before the storm, a fleeting breath before the triple bill onslaught of ‘Le Sigh’, ‘Eyes Wide Terrified’ and ‘Shipping’, with which all hell breaks loose. Where some of their contemporaries (such as Los Campesinos) have slowed their songs down and become more thoughtful, Johnny Foreigner retain the energy and vitality that has been present since their debut.
One of the things that gets a bit lost in translation with Johnny Foreigner is that because they are a scuzzy emo-punk band means they are sloppy musicians; this is definitely not the case. Drummer Junior Laidley especially is to be respected: playing in multiple different tempos and time signatures in the same song, sometimes while also playing casio keyboard. Despite the attention grabbing vocal double act of Alexei Berrow and Kelly Southern (as well as firebrand guitarist Lewes Heriott), live eyes are always drawn to Junior. It is on songs like the schizophrenic loud/quiet sing-along ‘Sofacore’ where the band show how tight and skilled they are.
After an intense first half, the band slow the pace with ballad ‘Riff Glitchard’ and old favourite ‘Salt, Pepa and Spindrella’. New fans are understandably confused by the older tracks, including a mostly acapella version of ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs. Everything’ with the anthemic “Oh my God!” coda, but the closing blast of ‘You Vs. Everything’ leaves everyone satisfied. 2014 has been a banner year for the quartet, but 2015 slowly looms as a challenge to see if they can do better.