Having been more than a little impressed with Wartoad’s debut LP What Rough Beasts, I was keen to take up the opportunity to catch them live on their UK tour, which kicked off with the launching of an inflatable pig and continued in a perhaps not entirely well planned trek up and down the country in a way that ensured maximum travelling time. Luckily, Wartoad had a huge and luxurious tour bus, the like of which I imagine the Dublin Castle only rarely seems parked outside their venue, and so the band of musicians-who-have-all-done-jolly-impressive-things and band leader Butch Dante are doubtless rested and rarin’ to go. Your Reprobate editor is equally keen, and so arrives in Camden a good eight hours before the band are due to hit the stage, all the more time to have a few drinks with Toad publicist and Reprobate correspondent Daz Lawrence, as well as assorted Toad entourage members as we prepare to film the evening’s proceedings for posterity.
Two things strike me as we finally make our way into the Dublin Castle. One is the fact that they are making rather more of a thing about the fact that Madness and Amy Whiner played there than is decent – some might argue that this is nothing to boast about. The other is just how much of a spit ‘n’ sawdust place this is, and I say that with affection – finding a venue that is decidedly no-frills is actually a real joy these days. And they sell Trooper, so all is good.
As we finally make our way into the venue proper – after a much-needed food stop in a more cavernous and soulless local – we find that things are running late, and the support act are just about to start. Perhaps it is the beer, or possibly a general indifference, but I can’t possibly tell you who they were. I may well have never known. Anyway, they have a girl singer, try admirably to get audience singalong for songs that the crowd had never heard before, and seem to make an agreeable, if clearly forgettable racket. They have lots of mercy for sale, unlike Wartoad, who have – despite having a spankingly good album available – have apparently brought nothing. I quite like that too. It shows a certain integrity, making it all about the music.
And when Wartoad hit the stage, they deliver the goods in style. It’s impressive that so many of the can squeeze onto this tiny stage, and even more impressive that they can put on a show that is chaotic, controlled, exciting and inspiring, as they kick off with Shove It and charge through their set with such indecent haste that they seem to be on stage for less time than their support act. Short, sharp and to the point, they thunder through their curious hybrid of punk, prog and psych, with such immediate classics as I Get High, …And Fuck Off, Mean to Me, Coming on Strong and Gentrification, managing to be tight and loose simultaneously, even as they battle microphones that simply can’t handle the Toad onslaught and a lighting system that consists of just one colour – red.
Dante, who has slipped into a boiler suit in the middle of the audience before the gig starts – that’s how casual this all is – leaps off the stage to terrorise hapless punters, while the rest of the band show their musical chops by switching roles at random. The Manson Family outcast singer vacates the stage to make way for other vocalists and then pops up on drums midway through – where the original drummer has gone is not clear. Everyone has a go at singing, and the brief set makes room for covers of 96 Tears and Too Drunk to Fuck. A chubby man of a certain age is dancing with wild abandon in the audience. Daz is looking very excited. Everyone is having a glorious time, even though no one quite seems to know what is happening. I find myself leaning against the speaker cabinets on more than one occasion, just to keep from toppling over. It’s all very delirious. And then, suddenly, it’s all over.
Wartoad are an extraordinary experience live. Effectively everything you might want from a rock band is here, defying convention and blitzing the audience into astounded submission. Next time, they could perhaps come a little closer to overstaying their welcome – we could’ve handled another twenty minutes or so, I think. But that’s show business – leave ’em wanting more. I look forward to their return to these shores soon.