Sometimes you just get lucky. Lucky to be in just the right place at the right time, and in this case that means catching a band like the Subways at a place like the Casbah. The Subways, from England, had a minor hit in the U.S. back in 2006 when the single “Rock & Roll Queen” from their debut album, Young for Eternity, was released. They toured that record, stayed in Los Angeles to record its follow-up, All or Nothing, then returned to the UK and didn’t come back until this tour. That’s eight years with no presence in America.
Here’s a group that has played to 70,000+ fans at the Reading and Leeds festivals, among others, (check out this performance) and tonight they were going to play the Casbah, which has a capacity of just 200. I asked their manager, Ben Hamilton-Kirby, who accompanied the band on this tour, what size venues the Subways typically play when they headline at home. He told me that in addition to the festival circuit the band typically plays to crowds of about 1,500 to 3,000, depending on the location. Interestingly, the lower number was at home in England, but in Germany and other European cities they are even more popular and draw the larger crowds. I then asked him what it was like for the band to play such a small venue when they were so comfortable playing to much larger audiences, and he said, “Actually, it was worse than that for a while – only 18 tickets were sold before the show, so the band really didn’t know what the reception would be like.” As it turns out, they needn’t have worried as the Casbah filled up nicely by the time their set started. It may not have been 75,000, but 150 inside the Casbah can create some energy!
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And energy is just what the Subways provided. After a taped symphonic introduction, the band hit the stage at full speed playing the song “Kalifornia” from their 2008 album, All or Nothing. This song starts with an attacking drum fill followed by a huge, heavy guitar & bass riff before singer Billy Lunn‘s vocals enter to sing/shout the verse. Then on the chorus, Lunn is joined by bassist Charlotte Cooper, and their voices blend perfectly to put the pop into their pop/punk sound.
That’s how it went for the 18-number set (see the full setlist I posted here) – song after song of energetic and inspired rock and roll. The band, which also included Lunn’s brother, Josh Morgan, on drums, was fully engaged with each other and with the audience. Lunn was especially talkative, and quite funny, sharing stories and bantering with the crowd and his band-mates. This connection was tested a couple of times when the singer would stop singing in mid verse or chorus, trusting the audience to fill in the vocals. This would seem to be a risky maneuver for a band that hadn’t been around in 8 years, but Lunn knew his audience and they did their part at full volume.
The Subways’ influences are varied and I can hear a mix of bands and genres: from early glam and punk like T-Rex and the Ramones to alt rock and Brit-pop like Nirvana and Oasis. They also have a real classic rock sound to them, and I’ll bet Billy Lunn grew up with a great record collection around him. I had a chance to talk to Lunn after the show and ask him a few questions. First I asked how old he was when he wrote “Rock & Roll Queen” and what it felt like to still be playing it and receive such an enthusiastic response from the audience. He told me that he was 17 when he wrote the song and is “just thrilled to be able to still play it and for people to enjoy it so much.” He told me about how they got their first record deal when they were quite young and that he can’t believe that song is still going so strong after all these years. I then asked if when he wrote it he was aware of the Mott the Hoople song with the same name (listen here) since not only does it have the same title but the Subways have a glam-rock edge to some of their songs like Mott the Hoople did. Lunn admitted that he had never heard of the song at the time but that he did hear it later on and that he really likes it. He even mentioned that he thought he was “being so clever coming up with that phrase, only to find out it had already been a hit for another band.”
And now we come to the end of the performance as the band launches into “Rock & Roll Queen.” The crowd was pushing forward, dancing and singing every word at full volume along with the band. And as the song ended, Lunn, drenched in sweat with a big smile on his face, just looked out over the audience at this dive bar on Kettner and had a look on his face as if he felt like he was the lucky one to be there.
The other good fortune I had on this night was to meet a young photographer who agreed to share his photographs with me. All of the pictures in this post are his, and you can find more of his excellent work on his Instagram account: www.instagram.com/esaulaniado.
Click here to check out The Subways website.
Click here for more pictures and videos from the show from MaxSoundsMusic.