Although I have been seeing bands and artists in pubs recently (mainly the Reindeer and the Walnut Tree Shades) I haven’t been photographing and I had not returned to the Arts Centre since March 2020, until tonight and I only brought a compact camera with me. Any anxieties about the NAC feeling unfamiliar in its new Covid-safe state were quickly dispelled on arrival when I saw Nick on the door, and David at the front desk (it was good to catch up with them both later). Suddenly it felt like I’d never been away. Reassured, I looked in the bar and found more familiar faces (the perspex screen at the bar was less familiar, however, and may take a bit more getting used to), this aspect of gigs cannot be overstated, the social side of music events and the coming together of like-minded souls; in fact the vast majority of my friends are friendships formed and forged though music in one way or another over the years. I have missed this social aspect of live music enormously.
Support was from London’s Lunch Money Life, a band making interesting and enjoyable music which almost defies categorisation but was well received by the appreciative audience. The only thing preventing me from becoming wholly absorbed was the awareness and novelty of being back in the NAC hall after so long away. It was nice to see various members of Bo Ningen among us appreciatively watching Lunch Money Life too.
During the break it was great to see plenty of familiar faces in the bar and catch up with friends, including promoter of PRB (Punk Rock Blues) Rupert Orton who said this was his first PRB post-lockdowns gig too (other than Red Rooster of course). Bo Ningen’s gig was one I had earmarked last year before, like all the others, it fell victim of the restrictions.Although possibly an outre choice to return with that was what made it all the more appealing for me, and clearly for many others too as this was a decent audience, the hall feeling nicely full without being too crowded.
For the entirety of their set Bo Ningen held our complete attention, every bit as visually compelling as their music. This was their first night of the tour and their first indoor gig in 18 months too, they obviously enjoyed it as much as the audience did. A band with immense power and energy there is no lack of subtlety or softer moments either. The whole band put everything into the performance but what a frontperson Taigen Kawabe is, charismatic and captivating, in an at times not dissimilar way to Starcrawler’s Arrow de Wilde with incredible faces pulled, unpredictable stage antics and using a bass in ways I hadn’t seen before. Closing with an absolutely phenomenal full band blowout on the epic Daikaisei Part II, III which easily topped 15 minutes and induced a modest but lively moshpit down the front (something at times over the past 18 months I had wondered if I would ever see again). It was a most welcome sight and together with the delivery of this set closer it blew away any remaining lockdown cobwebs, it was cathartic and healing, something felt purged. It also felt good to experience music in a communal way again, if anything it could have been louder but it was thrilling feeling that connection between a band and audience, particularly when everyone went bonkers towards the end. A sort of musical exorcism of any lingering lockdown blues or fatigue.
Thank you Bo Ningen and PRB, and the gig-going community. Live music is so important in many ways and I think we’ve all realised just how important that role is in bringing people together. Be they small gigs in pubs or larger ones in dedicated venues, gigs seem to be at the centre of social life for many of us. It was also a relief to be out and about talking about music again.
PRB will be back at the NAC on Sunday 17th October, this time bringing The Courettes to Norwich.