Still basking in the glow of yet another successful US tour, Catfish and the Bottlemen are currently on their biggest UK tour yet: one which sold out within a matter of minutes when tickets initially went on sale back in May.
But there’s something you should know. Catfish and the Bottlemen are MY band. It’s personal. Let me explain.
I’m not sure how many individuals have attended all five Catfish and the Bottlemen concerts in the Los Angeles area over the past year. I may be the only one. Those concerts were:
– The Echo, October 14, 2014;
– The Constellation Room, October 24, 2014;
– The Troubadour, February 9, 2014;
– House of Blues Anaheim, September 27, 2015;
– The Fonda, September 29, 2015.
At the band’s very first show in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure and privilege of being one two people to interview Van McCann. The interview was an hour in duration and over 5,000 words long; longer than most media will actually publish, and something the band no longer accommodates within the confines of a demanding schedule. That piece can be found here, chopped into two somewhat digestible morsels, in English and French language versions.
When Catfish and the Bottlemen returned to the US to tour again in February of 2015, they had experienced a number of tremendous successes: A huge sold-out tour in the UK including two nights at Brixton Academy, a certified gold record, the “Best Newcomer” award at the BBC Music Awards, and an appearance on The David Letterman Show.
I was eager to cover the tour again, bigger and better than the first time. That enthusiasm became a serial piece called Catfish Coast to Coast depicting the band’s live shows in five US cities—Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New York City–through the eyes and impressions of five photographers.
Considering this ongoing “relationship” with the band, it was not without a great deal of pride that I recently witnessed two Los Angeles area shows in large venues filled to the brim with devoted fans singing along to every song and thought, “My boys are all grown up!”
As the band has effectively matured into the place and mindshare they occupy today, I’m inclined to focus on where Catfish and the Bottlemen are delivering “more” than before.
In the space of just a year, the Los Angeles area performances have grown from an initial audience of about 200 people, to a sold out show of 400 at The Troubadour, to venues of over 1,000. More remarkable still is the surge in fans willing to get in line at increasingly earlier times in order to secure front row real estate. In the case of the House of Blues Anaheim show, the fans at the front of the line showed up at 10:30 am and braved a scorching hot day where temperatures climbed to 33° C.
One of the most obvious evolutions in the Los Angeles area shows this tour resides in the degree of professionalism surrounding the stage management and general showmanship of the band. The ensemble knows the material—the 11 tracks from the band’s debut album The Balcony—inside out, forwards and backwards, and it shows. The lighting added excitement. The sound was flawless. Van McCann’s banter was minimal, yet effective in engaging the audience. The changeovers, including switches to and from acoustic, were well-oiled machinery.
The intense familiarity with the current repertoire, unchanged in over a year now, has likely sparked a desire, conscious or not, to approach the material in new ways. The sonic take on the songs this tour seemed more psychedelic, raw and garage-influenced, even pleasantly improvisational at times. Van’s vocals are more solid than they’ve ever been technically, but also in terms of expression, whether via the use of dynamics or exploring variations in phrasing and delivery. Had the band wanted to give the audience an even bigger thrill, a taste of new material or a surprise nugget from the vast pre-Balcony repertoire (ASA, anyone?) would have been hugely welcome and applauded. Perhaps the UK crowds on the upcoming sold out tour will be treated to a novelty or two on the setlist.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Catfish and the Bottlemen are my band in that I feel somewhat like a proud parent, having witnessed their growth into a more seasoned and professional ensemble over the past year. With that growth also comes a form of distance and, I must admit, a certain nostalgia for experiences past:
– I can no longer barge backstage unhindered to say goodbye after a gig;
– I can’t chat with Benji on the sidewalk outside the venue;
– I can no longer pester Bob as he puts away his own kit, nor argue with Larry the guitar tech and longtime friend of Van about why ASA really should have been on The Balcony;
– I can’t cut to the front of the fan line to deliver banana bread, Yorkshire Tea, and a hug to Bondy;
– I can’t quiz Van about his necklace or coax him to say the name of the band in his best imitation of an American accent.
But that’s all perfectly fine and part of their road to success. They remain “mine.” Many fans, especially those in the UK who attended shows 3, 4, 5 years ago and more, no doubt feel the same sense of ownership and personal investment. In fact, so do newer fans who are just discovering and connecting on a deep level with the band’s music and lyrics.
Perhaps the foundation of the band’s success lies there: in their ability to make things personal, to win over every heart and charm fans via a thousand “thank yous” into feeling like they have a collective, yet individual stake in the band’s success. What’s different with the passage of time is how that relationship comes to feel personal: through a community of fans who share a love of guitar-driven music, rocking out, singing along, and witnessing a group of lads who came together in Llandudno, Wales with an improbable dream and enough foolish confidence to think they could conquer the world.
The upcoming sophomore album produced by Dave Sardy to be released on Virgin Records will give fans an opportunity to see where OUR band is headed next creatively and musically. As for how their live performances will evolve, judging by what happened in Los Angeles recently, stadiums remains a very solid guess.
Special thanks to photographer Triffin Constantine.
His work can be found at Triffin.net