Something's Going On

13th June 2005

"Hey mate," Jason Perry calls to the engineer in a rare quiet moment between songs; "does this thing work?" He's pointing at a disco ball hanging above the crowd of sweaty teenagers. For a moment everyone in the tiny venue stares up expectantly, until it becomes clear that the disco ball indeed doesn't work. "Pity," shrugs JP, "it would've looked ace with this next song." Undeterred, the band launch into top 20 single 'Starbucks', and they put their customary enthusiasm into every note. The (rather reserved) crowd goes wild (in a polite manner, of course).

The band is A, cheeky punk hopefuls turned nu-metal popsters, and the venue is the Fez Club in Reading. I've been to the Fez a few times before, and it's one of my favourite local clubs for live music it holds about 300 people at most, and there's a massive concrete pillar in the middle of the stage, but it's got a lot of charm and somehow manages to attract mid-sized acts such as DJ Yoda and Snow Patrol (just before 'Run' propelled them to the top of the charts). A are coming to the end of a short UK tour, and the release of their long-delayed fourth album Teen Dance Ordinance is just around the corner, so there's a real sense that they're building up steam, preparing for a fresh assault on the UK rock scene.

Tonight the atmosphere is good-natured, if a little subdued. You get the feeling that most of the audience know A solely from 'Nothing' and 'Starbucks', the hit singles from their previous album, 2002's Hi-Fi Serious. Which is fair enough until 'Nothing' stormed the summer radio playlists they had been a band criminally overlooked. Even so, the classy metal riffs of new single 'Rush Song' fail to get the crowd going, and even 'Nothing' prompts only a small amount of moshing. Thankfully there are enough long-time fans here that classics like 'Monkey Kong' and 'I Love Lake Tahoe' turn into sing-alongs vocalist JP has a throat infection, so he needs all the help he can get.

The band are a curious mix: bassist Dan Carter would look completely at home on stage with System Of A Down, throwing rock-star shapes and playing up for the crowd like there's no tomorrow. Meanwhile, guitarist Mark Chapman's polo shirt makes him seem like the most un-rock person in the club; that doesn't stop him unleashing a Van Halen-esque solo during 'The Distance' (a personal favourite). There was talk around the time of Hi-Fi Serious about A raising their game; going from "a twee little English band" to being "a big international rock act. With devil horns," as Carter put it. And on the strength of tonight's performance, they totally deserve it. If Teen Dance Ordinance isn't a massive hit I'll eat my Iron Maiden baseball cap.

During the breakdown in the middle of 'Starbucks', someone in the audience produces a torch or mobile phone or something, and illuminates the disco ball. Dots of light play across the walls, the band, and the heads of the fans. Everyone cheers, including JP, then the chorus kicks back in and we all sing along.