I’m an asshole at gigs. Occasionally I fall into the trap of believing I know what I’m talking about, so I asked a friend at this show before this band took to the stage “Are they shite?”. He told me they weren’t and that the singer was really good. I took it with a bit of a pinch of salt.

Which turned out to be a totally unnecessary use of condiments because Ursa Mae were not shite. They were really good and in fact had 3 really strong voices in the band. Which is an average of 3 more good voices than the average band. It’s almost greedy when you think about it.

Ursa Mae // photograph by Calum McMillan
Ursa Mae // photograph by Calum McMillan

Distinct voices being utilised in music sounds better than a single voice and it adds a lot of depth to Ursa Mae’s post-hardcore racket. It’s a sound that’s heavier on the melody than it is on….the heavy. Their melodic moments are rich and lush and a lot more mature than many of their peers. But fans of terrible pit dancing need not fear, there’s still more than a few moments of muscular riffing and guttural vocals.

The piano lead ballad “Monsters” was an interesting diversion from the up-tempo nature of the rest of their set. It seems like an experiment that probably pays off more on record than it does live if I’m honest. Losing your good natured, but confrontational, front man to the back of the stage to play the keys does kill the dynamic somewhat.

That being said, the number of lighters in the air was pretty cool. It sounds kinda lame, but it wasn’t.

Ursa Mae don’t come across as the finished deal quite yet, they never seem to sure if they’re invested in being brutal or accessible, but a little fine tuning could see some seriously good song-writing from a group of musicians as talented as this.

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Shows are possibly the best part of being in a band. The logistics of show is possibly the worst part of being a band. Swallows were due to start an 8 day tour last week. Following a disastrous series of events, that will probably happen to every band at some pint that cut to 5, then 3 and then ultimately 2. That being the case, how much could the band expect of a Glasgow show on a rainy and freezing weekday night in March?

As it happened though, it might just have been the best show the band have ever played. So swings and roundabouts and all that. Though, disappointingly they never did follow through on that Busted cover they kept announcing before every song. I feel betrayed.

Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan
Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan

Possibly the band’s frenetic live show in Nice ‘n’ Sleazys was fuelled by the frustraion of their continually collapsing plans, or possibly it was just the happiest of accidents. I’m not sure it really matters. For an intense half hour to 40 mins Swallows turned a small basement in the city centre of Glasgow into one of those shows we’re all told exist in the sacred halls of underground alternative music, but that don’t actually come around all that often.

Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan
Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan

The harsh reality of most shows is thus: most people there are genuinely really into the music, but beyond the heartfelt cheers at the end of songs, they’re unlikely to get more involved. It’s unimaginable difficult to break that uncertain and self-concious wall between crowd and artist when you’re still this deep underground. Which is why you’re probably just as well just throwing yourself over it and into the crowd.

Crowd surfing in a venue as tight as this isn’t easy. It says a lot about the commitment of this band, and of this crowd, that it happened more than once on Thursday night.

Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan
Swallows // photograph by Calum McMillan

If all small shows by underground band’s were like this then bands would always be playing to packed sweat boxes instead of their significant others, the sound guy and the bar staff. On the other hand, if every gig was like this then we wouldn’t really understand just how good this gig was.

The underground, particularly in Scotland, is full of incredibly talented artists playing shows, releasing records and haphazardly touring every night of the week. Most of those shows are great and a handful are like this. You should try and go to more of them.

Because if you keep missing shows like this you’re absolutely missing out. And if you missed this show because you were at the money grabbing, choreographed and totally banal bullshit of McBusted you should just feel ashamed. Charlie Simpson isn’t even in that band, and he had the best hair anyway.

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Usually when people write about great gigs they mean gigs that were packed to the rafters with a crowd that are as ravenous as the band throwing themselves about on the stage. The reality is that for most underground artists gigs aren’t like that. You’re playing to the other bands, the promoter, the bar staff and if you’re really lucky your other half who isn’t sick of your music yet.