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PREVIEW: The Cribs @ Millennium Square, Leeds, 22/07/2016

by Ed Biggs

Once described by Q magazine as “the biggest cult band in the UK”, there’s something comfortingly authentic about The Cribs’ career trajectory over the 15 years since their formation. Jobbing it round the nation’s toilet circuits year after year and building up their fanbase with records that improved as time went on, the Jarman brothers’ path to critical and commercial success is an increasingly rare one in 2016, a throwback to a pre-digital age. Indeed, a great deal of their music, although it is incredibly easy to sing along to, is reminiscent of Pacific North-Western underground, DIY punk more than anything else. Growing up admiring the likes of Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth and The Replacements as well as British indie favourites like Orange Juice gave their music an ethos that has caused it to outlast the music made many of their noughties contemporaries. Their loud but melodic style, paradoxically both abrasive and tender at the same time, was able to make sense in the mainstream but also be subversive of it.

Following their modest 2004 self-titled debut album, The Cribs survived the fall-out in the mid-noughties when a lot of similar post-Libertines, garage rock-styled British bands went to the wall. This was partly a result of their unbelievable work ethic and sensitivity to their devoted fanbase, but primarily it was down to a miniature army of awesome tunes that got better with each passing album as they honed and polished their technique. 2005’s The New Fellas and 2007’s Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever rank as two of the finest British guitar albums of the noughties, with singles like ‘Hey Scenesters!’ and ‘Men’s Needs’ still indie disco favourites nearly ten years later.

Arguably the apex of their commercial visibility came with 2009’s Ignore The Ignorant, on which former Smiths guitarist and all-round hero Johnny Marr joined the Jarmans. Impressively hitting the UK Top Ten in a week where Beatles re-releases swept aside most of everything else, and accompanied by a successful UK tour, The Cribs were standing on the brink of true mainstream success. After only one album, Marr then left the group as they reverted to a three-piece for the more ambitious and challenging In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull in 2012. Although it also entered the Top Ten, it was an exercise in emphasising their influences and ethics over commercial considerations, assuring their loyal fans they were the same band they always were but arguably alienating newly acquired, possibly more casual fans.

On Friday (July 22nd), they play a special homecoming (of sorts) gig in Leeds’ Millennium Square, supported by some of their ideological forebears and successors. Two Leeds bands in the shape of Menace Beach, who released their debut album Ratworld in 2015, plus post-hardcore cult act Pulled Apart By Horses, currently putting their fourth LP together, open the show with half-hour sets each. Following this is a 45-minute performance from The Thurston Moore Group, the new recording vehicle for the former Sonic Youth guitarist, and who was one of the Jarman brothers’ key musical reference points as they began their career.

The Cribs’ last record, the muscular but often melodic For All My Sisters, was released in March last year and was accompanied with the assurance that another record, a more noise rock-influenced affair, would quickly be following it. 16 months later, and there’s still no official word on the matter, but it seems likely that Friday’s gig will be used as an opportunity to test material they’ve been working on.

Check out our playlist The Cribs: An Introduction via Spotify by clicking here, and buy tickets for the Leeds Millennium Square gig here or by visiting Crash Records, Jumbo Records or any Leeds independent outlet.

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