As a shirtless Charlie Steen, SHAME’s 20 year-old vocalist and lyricist, chants “Shame, Shame, Shame, that’s the name,” at the end of the band’s raucous, sold-out set at District, I can’t help but feel their name is drenched in as much irony as the band are in sweat. Nothing about Shame feels fragile, self-pitying or guilty. Forming as school friends in the bowels of the infamous South London pub the Queen’s Head in 2014, the comparisons to bands like Fat White Family are inevitable. But to compare Shame so loosely to their peers would do them an injustice, as they are far and away the most pulsating young band to come out of the UK in years.
However, before they attack the stage, the venue is warmed by the glow of indie outfit GURR. Hailing from Berlin, their beaming vivacity is a welcome surprise. Delivered with a friendly crunch, highlights are Moby Dick and #1985, until the band present a heavy rendition of Helter Skelter by the Beatles. It’s a perfect song to end on, and one that Gurr noticeably enjoy – I can’t say for sure that they don’t play it at every gig, but it certainly feels like a nice nod to the city’s heritage.
Shame themselves are such a nascent group, it’s difficult to avoid the swirling hyperbole that haunts bands that have begun to fill a space that’s been in need of filling. So far this year, they’ve been doing a brilliant job of it. Having just returned from a successful period in America, it sounds like they’re happy to be back. After storming openers Dust On Trial and Concrete, Steen teases, “It’s nice to look out and not see a single American face, we’ve been there for six weeks. I’m joking, I’m joking… kind of.” Caustic humour is at the heart of this band. Shame aren’t about comfort, inhibitions or political correctness and they express this with such vehemence that their authenticity is indisputable.
Their third track, both on their debut Songs Of Praise and on the night, is a shining example of this honesty. Introduced as the “First song we ever wrote at 16 and 17, when we still had our youthful optimism in the financial stability of the music industry,” One Rizla is a brilliantly anthemic, self-described pop song that’s an undeniable highlight. As Steen drawls brazenly “I’m not much to look at / And I ain’t much to hear / But if you think I love you / You’ve got the wrong idea,” Charlie Forbes continues delivering his tremendously driving, aggressive drumming that feeds the industrious atmosphere supplemented by the rest of the band. By this point, Steen is unashamedly half naked and there’s a sense that, after only three songs, exertion is a refreshing priority.
The Lick is a song that stomps with Mark E Smith-esque scorn and is correspondingly anchored with a Fall-like muddy bassline and droning guitars. Steen’s sardonic lyrics “marvel at the four-chord future” and take swipes at the supposed “next greatest track […] sincerely recommended to you by the New Musical Express”. Contempt for the monotony that infests so many guitar bands in an increasingly anodyne industry defines Shame not just as refreshing, but as essential. When performed live, it’s delivered with genuine derision from all corners of the band and is perhaps the shining example of just how far they excel live.
An unnamed, new song offers a desirable contrast both instrumentally and lyrically. With its jangly guitars and upbeat bassline, the band channel The Stone Roses as Steen croons “Wish you would stay, just for the day […] I’ve never felt human before”. It’s a welcome moment of fragility, but even in these moments there’s a simmering anger and frustration that won’t buckle. Angie is one of the only points of stalling in an understandably short set list. On record, it’s a perfectly ethereal closer to a fast-paced collection of songs, but it doesn’t fully transmit live.
Nevertheless, the succinct Lampoon is a perfect antidote and presents one of many moments of unity between the band and crowd. Steen’s shoulders begin to shake rapidly and his vocals are delivered with a sharp intensity that’s mirrored in his lyrics, before he indulges in an inevitable stage dive.
The closer on the night is Gold Hole, a scathing and witty account of a young girl and her sugar daddy amplified with a gritty riff and a climactic frenzy of improvisation from guitarists Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green along with bassist Josh Finerty and drummer Forbes. As Steen spouts his comical, but profound, innuendo, “Pop my cork, feel me drip,” and repeats the humorous, circling hook of “Shake me up” it’s clear how tight and harmonious the band is collectively. There’s no encore but they leave describing the night as “An honour, a privilege and a moment of pure ecstasy”. It’s difficult to disagree with the latter.
With their exhilarating live performances and excellent debut record, Shame have laid strong foundations to build upon their promising start. The ironically titled debut Songs Of Praise managed to concisely fuse youthful frustration with a refreshing degree of self-awareness. Not only do their live performances mirror these traits, they enact them fantastically, drenched in a passionate, enthralling and primal sweat.