Sometimes after a very enjoyable gig things settle and we place them in categories of greatness in our mind. Some may drop a place or two once the initial excitement calms down but others retain their place in classic greatness in our own all-time favourite gig lists which we all compile in our heads, and a few even warrant the Legendary status. That’s definitely the case with Starcrawler’s first visit to Norwich in 2017 at The Crypt where 90 or so of us lucky souls crammed into this medieval underground space to witness something truly extraordinary, a night of bona fide legendary status. Before this latest gig I was chatting with a friend who was also there five years ago and we both agreed it was one of the very best gigs either of us have ever attended, probably The Best (and neither of us say such things lightly). But all of Starcrawler’s subsequent returns to Norwich have also hit and retained that classic greatness level of unforgettable gigs too. It’s a phenomenal level of consistency, growth and development, each one bigger and full of the same high impact rock experiences that we love so much about this special band.
During those interminable lockdowns when I started to wonder if live gigs like this would ever return, particularly live music shows like Starcrawler’s. I even dreamed about their gigs, literally, I missed them so much. This is why I saw them twice in London in the same week in spring, the second of which I had a lucky chance meeting with Arrow and Henri within minutes of my stepping off the train. I mentioned to them that Norwich would love to see them back and they have grown a pretty strong following here. They replied that they tried to make it happen but nobody could get the available dates to work but would try and make it happen next time. When I saw that they were returning to the UK to play All Points East alongside Nick Cave, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Aldous Harding et al. I wondered and hoped they might possibly return as, because they are one of the hardest working bands I have ever known, they usually try and fit in as many dates as they can when they come over for a festival appearance or big support slot (Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance, Nick Cave, Jack White, Beck), sometimes without even a single day off. Quite something as their gigs are very high intensity and energetic shows as it is, let alone factoring in the touring schedule but they just seem born to play live.
This wished for news of a Norwich date arrived early last week when PRB announced their much-awaited return to our city, adding that (true to their word) the band had asked to play here! Their fourth time in Norwich. With just one week’s notice for a Wednesday night gig it still sold out which is no mean feat at all in these cash-strapped times. They have now sold out on each of their four visits to Norwich. After their first NAC visit I joked with Henri that they started by playing a medieval crypt in the city but were now selling out churches. He joked back that they were aiming to play and fill a cathedral. Well, we have two cathedrals and I have no doubt they’d fill both, they are truly adored in Norwich.
Anyway, I arrived in plenty of time and was pleased to see the character that later in the evening Arrow would dub “Rumpelstiltskin“, he and I met and chatted briefly ahead of their London Hoxton Colours gig and the same happened here in Norwich – he’d travelled from Paris to see them (both times) and was also going to see the following gigs in Liverpool and Leeds.
The doors opened just as the nearby church bells were striking 7pm and the early arrivals headed to the bar area and garden, it was good to see so many familiar faces, some of whom I had not seen in close to three years. The Starcrawler devotees claimed their spots at the front ahead of the support set, local band Damp Matches, familiar to me only by name, I had not seen them before and knew nothing much about them but it quickly became clear what a good choice they were to support Starcrawler, a similar energy, lively, visual and with a healthy dose of attitude and strong songs. Everyone I spoke to enjoyed their set, I certainly did. They are even fans of Starcrawler too so they felt honored to be opening for them.
All day and even the previous day I had been looking forward to and building up excitement for Starcrawler’s set, this sort of thing can be filled with a danger of over-expectation but Starcrawler never, ever disappoint on that score and not only match this huge level of expectation and excitement but consistently exceed it. From the moment they arrived as a visiting band in 2017 it was clear that for all the energy and unpredictability of their shows this is a very tight unit of great musicians who take it seriously, they seriously care and they are meticulous about everything. In the dimly lit atmosphere of the NAC stage it may not have been obvious to all but almost everything was pink. The drum kit, amps, the guitar cables and even down to the setlists and the pink gaffer tape holding them down on the stage. Starcrawler have a strong aesthetic sense, they always put on a show but I love all this attention to detail visually, from the dynamics of movement to the clothes and the now the pink gear too. I already associate this vibrant pink solely with Starcrawler now. Something else that may not have been common knowledge was that Henri was playing with a broken bone in his wrist, not that anyone could have guessed from his shredding and dervish movements throughout. Another measure of their commitment to their craft.
There was a strong sense of anticipation ahead of the 9pm stage time, building further when the lights dimmed, the stage filled with smoke and the intro tape played. The band came on, started playing Goodtime Girl and then Arrow burst upon the scene to loud cheers, she blew kisses to the crowd and we were off and running. It was loud, frenetic, powerful and glorious, plus we had “Rumpelstiltskin” conducting and choreographing the moshpit. Brilliant!
Since their 2019 visit they have had some line-up changes, on drums they now have Seth Carolina, plus the addition of Henri’s brother Bill Cash on guitars and pedal steel. This is a master-stroke. Their sound is now bigger, mightier and more powerful, it’s more expansive but and also has a subtle edge, particularly on the slower songs. The country hints and influence has always been there but it’s worn more openly apparent now with the slower segment of the set about halfway through where they fed us some appetisers for the album with some new, slower songs featuring the pedal steel and Henri playing acoustic guitar. They still love to rock out too though, blistering out old favourites including both sides of Ants/Used to Know, I Love L.A., No More Pennies, Bet My Brains alongside more recent songs Stranded, Roadkill, Goodtime Girl, Thursday, Better Place, Runaway and many more in this strong 22-song set, which of course included the epic Chicken Woman as an encore, a song where anything can happen (and often does!) during its performance. The new songs really give an insight into how they are developing their sound and style as a band. It all bodes really well, this is an excellent and interesting band. Tonight Arrow dived into the crowd and was carried aloft and Henri also went walkabout playing guitar in the pit which even included an audience with the Pope! Crypts, churches, cathedrals and now the pontiff. Starcrawler are going to be huge if there’s any justice and reward for sheer brilliance, dedication and extremely hard work. They have it all, the ability, desire, work ethic, talent, artistry, creativity, image and of course the songs. They deserve everything good and we may all look back on the days we saw them in venues like this but Starcrawler seem absolutely genuine when they speak of their love for Norwich, they have always said this but it was quite obvious at this gig with the warmth from the stage and also from the floor. The love and respect was reciprocal. They appeal to all ages too, there are more younger people each time but the older ones recognise something in Starcrawler and their performances that we have missed for a long, long time. An energy, excitement and sense of occasion. They don’t lecture us or go on and on about politics (nobody really wants that at a gig outside of a benefit or awareness gig, do they? I don’t. Gigs are my respite and escape from the everyday things), they just entertain us and put on a heck of a thrilling rock show. They tap into something primal in any music fan and it’s intoxicating. We all felt it.
We also recognise many of the musical reference points that form their own sound, I detect influencial names within the band from the like the Ramones, T-Rex, Ozzy, Iggy, Cramps, MC5, AC/DC, Nirvana, Sex Pistols, The Runaways, White Stripes,Parsons, Berry, New York Dolls and increasingly even the Rolling Stones, certainly in the command of the stage, amongst others as well as rock, punk, outlaw country and a lot of glam but they very much have their own identity and clearly mean what they do. With stage presence in abundance to boot, as music fans we always recognise authenticity and Starcrawler are definitely For Real. Any band’s sound is always going to be formed from the melting pot of their influences but what finer pedigree of influences could anyone have? One thing I have felt with their gigs this year is this feeling of their being on the cusp of much-wider recognition and the potential to explode to a much wider audience. I hope so, though I do love seeing them in these smaller venues. They have a huge tour on the horizon in the US this autumn and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving band should that recognition arrive, they are certainly ready and able for it. If it does and they become huge, we will treasure all the more the memories of seeing them in the Arts Centre and Crypt, though Henri stressed to me once again that they will “always play in Norwich” which filled my heart with joy.
Being a Wednesday night you might think everyone would file out once the music was over but not a bit of it, the bar was very busy with “that buzz” you get after a great gig where everyone wants to talk about it and keep the evening going. The new album was not yet at the merch table but She Said is imminent with a 16 September release date. Henri was at the desk and happy to chat and so too was the wonderful Arrow when she appeared a few minutes later. Both were happy to talk, sign and have photos taken with everyone, they value their fans in the same way we do them, it was notable and obvious what a keen and genuine connection they have with their audience, I love and respect them even more for that. A formidable force of nature onstage, off it Arrow is chilled, friendly and good humoured, really lovely. Likewise, Henri will make time to talk to anyone with a question about music and his set-up, he even put on a Damp Matches t-shirt. It was just beautiful, there’s a real connection between this band and their audience, and this city. Starcrawler, and last night in Norwich, is rock ‘n roll Heaven. They are absolute stars but off-stage they’re down to earth music fans like all the rest of us, happy to engage and we love them all the more for it. There seem to be ever more of us in this rapidly growing Starcrawler fan-base too, just as there should be.
For all those present, for the duration of the gig (and for some considerable time afterwards in my case) I am pretty sure that for one evening at least nobody was thinking about inflation and energy prices as the band provided most welcome escapism from all of that by taking us on a ride through their world for ninety minutes or so. This is the best gig experience for me, where a gig is an escape from daily concerns. At Starcrawler gigs I am immersed throughout, they are spellbinding and I am spellbound in their world.
Lyric video for Broken Angels. Released on Friday 2 September 2022.
Huge thanks to Starcrawler for providing yet another highlight of the year and creating another indelible memory (Lord knows we are grateful after two years without being able to create new ones), PRB for booking them and NAC for hosting. Thanks also to the generous Gordon Woolcock for his giving nature, who on this occasion took a photo of me with Arrow and also printed some small cards of his Starcrawler photo collection to put on the merch desk, free for anyone who wanted one (or several in my case though I did try not to be greedy!), thanks Gordon. Thanks also to Paul Lievens and Bekki, for the use of photos and also for taking one on my camera of me with Arrow.
Please excuse what may be a rambling and gushing account of the evening, it’s not intended as a review as such, more just a record of my own experience of what felt a special evening which I will revisit in my memories often. I’ll load a few more photos soon, which may be rusty as it was only the second time I have used my DSLR this year!
We also remembered some friends who were here for when Starcrawler last played the venue but who sadly are no longer with us though I’m sure they are still part of the Norwich Starcrawler flock and were present in spirit.
A few days earlier I saw another wonderful gig, GNOD at Voodoo Daddy’s. It was intense, heavy, very loud and perfectly cathartic. One could almost see the baggage of two and a half years being shaken and thrown off the backs of both band and audience. It was superb, this gig and Starcrawler’s were so cathartic, just what was needed. I’m very grateful for this performance. Supporting GNOD were another local band I had not yet seen, Red Mar. They were pretty impressive actually, creative, doing things differently and very interesting for it. They had some great moments in their set and they’re a name I shall look out for in the gig lists to catch again. It was a busy day of music in the city and I very briefly caught some of 4D Jones’ album launch at the Reindeer before seeing The Cool Kings at the Walnut Tree Shades. Those Deadbeat Cats were also playing several sets on Gentleman’s Walk for Head Out Not Home.