It was a Monday night in late November at the Arden Gild Hall when I experienced Shame for the first time. They were the middle band between Grace Vonderkuhn and Ought, and they stepped out into the half-full barn and said “OK, we can do this,” and proceeded to burn the place down for 45 minutes. I’d never seen anything like it, a mix of Joy Division and the Sex Pistols.
The London-based band’s debut Songs of Praise was released in January and, while it is the strongest release I’ve heard in 2018, it still does little to catch the ferocity of their live shows. Vocalist Charlie Steen is a revelation — very shy in public and possessed by something both spiritual and visceral on stage. He is not the stereotypical angry punk rock singer, he seems to channel something that transcends emotion, a wake-up call to monotony.
The band’s Philly show last night was billed as taking place at a secret venue, but no one saw this coming. We wandered around a West Philly neighborhood trying to find this place, and finally a side door to what seemed like a large house opened. In a tiny room called Cousin Danny’s with no visible signage on 50th and Market, the place held maybe 100 people, and was lit by a single fluorescent fixture. The crowd packed in, a seemingly random cross-section from teen through geezers like myself. After a brief but energized and well-received opening set from Philly punk four-piece Cult Objects, Shame stepped out, turned off the one light in the room, and lit the fuse.
With even more intensity and connection to the crowd than in Arden, they ripped immediately into a thundering “Dust On Trial.” Guitars danced above Steen’s summoning “Just one step closer to me — closer and closer” and the throbbing crowd spilled forward, like an awakening reptile. “Concrete” followed, and their hit single “One Rizla” after that. They were doing Songs of Praise in order, and each track raised the bar higher and higher, bassist Josh Finerty somehow finding room to soar through the air as the floor started to wave and buckle.
The band ripped through every song on Songs of Praise in about 45 minutes before realizing the secret venue was starting the crumble beneath them. “It would be bad if we all died” Steen barked into the crowd that had only gotten more intense after the initial warning.
I heard someone say it was like seeing the Clash at a small club London in the 70s. It reminded me of seeing the Dead Kennedys as a kid in San Francisco. If this band isn’t blowing up large rooms in a year, there is no hope for mankind. This is the real deal.
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