Compiled from an August 2008 show in the UK and a May 2009 show in Germany, this digital-only live album from Brighton, England’s Brakesbrakesbrakes (the repetition being only for the benefit of their U.S. audiences, as we apparently have our own Brakes out of Philadelphia) captures a wildly energetic set of songs spanning a period in which the band was recording and releasing their latest studio album, Touchdown. The set on Rock Is Dodelijk, which contains a scant three numbers from that record (though two different versions of the riff-centric “Hey Hey”), favors their more rollicking material, playing out something like a best-of sampler of their music to date.
Considering that “dodelijk” is Dutch for “lethal”, it’s probably not surprising that Brakes veer more towards the rougher edge of the multiple styles they’ve straddled on their three studio releases, nowhere so widely or expertly than on Touchdown. That album found them comfortably walking a line between Brit-pop and ‘90s alternative, imbued with a powerfully economic punk-rock sensibility, and indeed not much changes in arrangement between the studio versions of their songs and their live counterparts. This is a testament both to the stripped-down nature of their basic aesthetic and their abilities (not to mention reputation) as a tight, first class touring act. There’s a hell of a lot of spirit captured here as they race through 20 songs in 43 minutes, many of which are between the one- and two-minute mark.
Brakes captures something of a Libertines-esque ramshackle quality with these live cuts. Everybody’s right on queue, but there’s a loose, free-wheeling sense about it all that suggests rocking out in this manner is not only a hell of a good time, but what they were born to do. The noteworthy quality of the soundboard mixing on this expert recording enhances the vivid and lively guitar and bass riffs all the more, although the crowd sounds way off in the background. That’s either good or bad depending on how important you think crowd noise is to a good live recording. Vocalist Eamon Hamilton, who comes across like a raggedy version of Clinic’s Ade Blackburn, sounds positively vivacious amidst the propulsive, ever-present guitar-riffs that are the true focal point here. They are the vehicle through which these numbers arrive, searing the ears and then bailing out with admirable aplomb.
Kicking it off with a couple of their most noteworthy singles, including their breakout song “Pick Up the Phone”, they race dizzyingly through their catalogue, until they wind up on the simmering charm of “Why Tell the Truth (When It’s Easier to Lie)?”. Its amped-up ebb-and-flow spills into the album’s only true ballad, “Isabel”. This number offers a welcome respite from the hyperactive volume surrounding it, though the slow-burning guitar that enters towards the end reminds us where we are, especially when a driving base line seamlessly launches into the stellar single “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man)” shortly thereafter. The unchecked ebullience of this track (“Sayin’ god damn / I’m happy just to be alive!”) in expressing reluctance to cooperate with an imaginary cosmic threat (which, incidentally, seems to make this a companion piece to the Killers’ “Spaceman”) is especially rousing in this live setting. Wrapping things up after this is the encore and winning finale “Jackson”, a surprisingly successful revved-up cover of the classic that Johnny Cash sang.
While a couple of the quieter standout tracks on Touchdown are sorely missing, and might have made for a bit of welcome balance here, you can’t argue with the fiery approach of Brakes’ live act evident on this document. It’s an exhilarating experience, even out of a home stereo, and it’s over before you know it, wasting no time once the job’s been done. A tried-and-true punk rock approach.
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// Notes from the Road
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