In Armando Iannucci’s new HBO sitcom, Veep, antagonizing presidential aide Jonah is shown letting off steam at an underground Washington, D.C. hardcore show. As Jonah thrashes about, he enthusiastically shouts, “This is fucking primordial!” Jonah could have easily been a stand-in for many of Future of the Left’s male fans at the band’s Sunday night gig, a show which stridently put a cap on the music portion of the second annual Northside festival. Despite what those opening sentences suggest, Future of the Left is far from being any old meathead punk band. I’m sure FotL fans are quite nice when they aren’t shoving milder audience members and spilling drinks as well; after all, such actions are to be expected when a band brings it hard and heavy as Future of the Left does. Even a less than stellar sound system couldn’t hamper the crowd’s thrall.
Having an irreverent and fearless leader in Andy Falkous helps Future of the Left to stand above the average punk or rock band. Anglophiles and punkers alike still carry a torch for Falkous’ previous band, Mclusky, out of service since 2005. As well-loved as Falkous’ former outfit was, old Mclusky favorites such as “To Hell with Good Intentions” and “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” were no more or less ravenously received than any Future of the Left song the band pulled out Sunday night. Three stealthy partners (drummer Jack Egglestone, guitarist Jimmy Watkins, and most notably effortlessly cool bassist Julia Ruzicka), a stellar new album (The Plot Against Common Sense), and Falkous’ biting asides delivered in an unmistakably Welsh burr are all keys to Future of the Left’s successful stage show.
However, some Future of the Left joys just don’t translate to a live setting, or at least didn’t translate Sunday due to Europa’s muddled sound system. Falkous’ strongest assets are his scream—on fine display at Europa—and his way with words. He may even do the similarly derisive Half Man Half Biscuit one better by dropping less esoterically British references into his lines. A faulty sound system unfortunately meant that such killer lines as “I’ve got a home for the Millennium Dome / A heart disease ward underwritten by McDonalds / You got funding while I got fat / On a training programme for type 2 diabetes” from “Failed Olympic Bid” misfired the uninitiated. Falkous’ mic cut out so badly on “I Am the Least of Your Problems” that the band ran through the song again after the problem was fixed (as Falkous wryly pointed out, “it’s what the Smashing Pumpkins would do”).
The audio system’s murkiness also worked to smother FotL’s hookier moments, distilling the songs down to barely recognizable racket. Fortunately, a trusty Roland keyboard helped to differentiate certain tunes, and favorites such as “Manchasm” sounded like their old familiar selves. Falkous even gave a shout-out to the keyboard by likening it to a “little racist” yet well-loved relative.
Europa’s audience showed little care in technical snags however, as a mosh pit sustained itself through the hour-plus show. At the lead-in to the night’s first Mclusky call-back, one man shoved his way to the mosh-pit area as if the compulsion to wave his hands and point in rhythm was just to strong. The surprisingly varied crowd showed a refreshing amount of female faces and—surprising for a festival show in Williamsburg—few scenesters with press passes.
Dashes of the old communal punk spirit—such as Watkins sharing his beer with the crowd—peppered the evening, but these flickers were no match for the set’s finale: after an extra-vicious version of “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” (Falkous referred to it as a Supergrass cover), the band closed things out with a burning version of “Lapsed Catholics”, during which Egglestone’s drum kit was deconstructed and a few audience members hopped on stage to bang on various parts of it. No encore was necessary; the mob scene which closed the night was exhilarating and exhausting enough to ensure a shell-shocked start to the working week.