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Gig of the year? Hot Snakes storm The Portland

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A wet, chilly Wednesday evening in January does not normally entice someone of sound mind to venture outside to check out a couple of bands. But then, tonight’s bill is no ordinary gig at the Portland.

It’s 8pm and the place is already packed for Newts. It’s not hard to see why. Some of the best bands that ever existed are three pieces (The Jam, Snuff, Motorhead, Bananarama) and Newts could soon rightly add their moniker to this claim. They’re a fine noise that recalls early Therapy, all solid bass, crunching riffs and pounding drums that are worth 30 minutes of anyone’s time.

There are those who would like to proclaim that Hot Snakes are something of an enigma. A post-hardcore supergroup? Garage Punk legends? Made up of members from hugely influential bands such as Drive Like Jehu, The Delta 72, Black Heart Procession, Rocket From The Crypt and Burning Brides? From the minute they walk onstage, the mystery is shattered and what unfolds over the following hour is the sound of one of the best live bands around today.

This tour is a double whammy – to celebrate the re-release of their first three albums from early 2000’s and offer a glimpse of the forthcoming record ‘Jericho Sirens’. The set kicks off with a new track ‘Death Camp Fantasy’ before we’re swept off our feet with an early 1-2 knockout punch of ‘Who Died’ and LAX’.

Their set is broken into two halves – the first sees Jason Kourkounis to play drums for tracks off their first two records, the second has Mario Rubalcaba behind the kit to offer highlights from 2004’s ‘Audit In Progress’ LP plus new songs. It’s the front three members that give off the band’s personality though – Rick Froberg is an unassuming, almost nonchalant, presence who screams and yelps when it’s required. Gar Wood on bass is the group’s court jester, chatting amiably with the audience at the front between songs. John Reis on guitar adds the band’s menace, throwing away his Rocket From The Crypt showman poise for a far more commanding presence – ask the audience member who got caught in a headlock with him.

Finishing with a four song encore that includes ‘Suicide Invoice’ and ‘Automatic Midnight’ turns the Portland into a sauna – all sweaty walls and bodies – before they say their goodbyes and slink off. Judging by the look of many of the faces shuffling out afterwards, tonight was definitely one of those ‘I was there’ moments.

Words: Rob Campkin
Image: Rich Etteridge

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