THE early-to-mid-2000s saw an influx of British alternative bands who blended crushingly heavy riffs with a chorus-driven, pop rock sensibility. Bands like Biffy Clyro and Fightstar are the best-known examples from this scene but in the eyes of many, the most underrated of these groups was Reuben.
Based in Surrey, Reuben released three critically-acclaimed albums of hardcore-pop-rock-metal before calling it a day in 2008. Five years later, their frontman Jamie Lenman – now sporting a three-piece suit and a twirly moustache – released his debut solo album Muscle Memory; a bewildering yet compelling double LP, half extreme metal and half big band, folk and jazz.
This tour marks Lenman’s first full run of shows since 2014 and the night kicks off with performances from two power duos; instrumental noiseniks Super Goliath, followed by HCBP – a bluesy noise rock side project of the hardcore band HECK.
This two-piece action, it turns out, is a sign of things to come. In a stark departure from his previous six-piece, jazz-metal live show, Lenman takes the stage accompanied only by drummer Dan Kavanagh – both stylishly-clad in white suits. Somehow, this stripped-back line-up sounds no less powerful than ever as Lenman launches into new single ‘Waterloo Teeth’ followed by the brutal ‘Fizzy Blood’.
The simplistic, guitar/drums set-up really makes Lenman’s guitar work shine, especially on the Reuben tracks that pepper the set. ‘Parties Break Hearts’ sounds like the soundtrack to the entire room’s teenage years, while ‘Blitzkrieg’ gets the unusually chilled-out crowd moving.
While many in the crowd are most enthusiastic about the numbers from Lenman’s former band, his solo material still manages to take centre-stage. ‘Waterloo Teeth’ B-side ‘Mississippi’ provokes a big singalong, as does the heartfelt ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’.
If the first quarter of the set felt too straightforward, it’s soon turned on its head in true Lenman style as he swaps his battered Yamaha guitar for an acoustic, bringing out the folkiest numbers from Muscle Memory. The country-stomp of ‘Shotgun House’ is followed by a crowd do-si-do to the bluegrass of ‘If You Have to Ask, You’ll Never Know’. The electric guitar comes back out for the emotional ‘Best Enemies’, after which, the set’s heaviness turns up a notch once again.
Between songs, Lenman cracks jokes at a rate that some stand-ups would be jealous of, prompting major laughter with his responses to heckles and his explanation of why his amp is topped with multi-coloured, plastic cereal bowls (it’s a rider request, to make sure the venue’s paying attention). After chastising the crowd for lying as they cheer for new songs – “Nobody came here to hear new songs…but I’m gonna play them anyway” – he blasts through unreleased new track ‘All of England is a City’, based on a nightmare he had, before appeasing the more longstanding fans with another Reuben song, ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’.
Encouraging the crowd, who have packed out Sound Control’s top floor, to find “a last little bit of energy”, Lenman closes on three of his most brutally heavy tracks: Michael Jackson tribute ‘Gary, Indiana’, ‘The Six-Fingered Hand’ and finally, the Reuben epic ‘Cities on Fire’. Then…the lights are up and he’s gone, with no encores to be had and the audience visibly both exhausted and in awe.
Make no mistake – Jamie Lenman remains one of this country’s most underrated rock musicians.
By Joseph Stevens