Gig Review: Specialist Subject Presents The Spook School, Radiator Hospital, Peaness and Dogeyed

by Tom Stockley

With a quadruple bill set to get Bristol’s hipsters quaking in their Doc Marten’s, this was a show I didn’t want to miss. Whilst it’s true that some of today’s indie scene has stagnated into chart-topping boy band wannabes with songs about as deep as an upturned Frisbee (*cough* Bastille *cough*), this line up laughs in the face of mainstream music and gender identity - social education that you can dance to. What’s not to like?

First up were Dogeyed, starting their set about as casually as a band can in a bowling alley. After an unannounced first song, front-person Harriet declared “We’re just gunna steam through them!” - and steam through them they did. I think Dogeyed deserve more confidence, with a set-list containing the sublime Deep Dreaming and the Breeders-via-Pavement anthem Dry. Showing off tracks from their new EP Throw The Bones (BUY IT) followed by a solo piece from Harriet (with gut wrenching growls worthy of label mates Shit Present), Dogeyed were done and down from the stage as casually as they’d begun. Catch them throughout the Summer if you want to jump on a well-deserved bandwagon!

Dogeyed's FFO: The Breeders, Sylvan Esso

Top Track: 'Dry'

Next Show: June 16th, The Exchange

Act two of the night were the delightfully named (band name of the year?!) Peaness. The Chester trio command endearment and respect simultaneously, with hundreds of plush pea mascots and an oeuvre of gloriously charged indie pop. From the choral lines “I wanna get lost with you” on opening track Seafoam Islands, the Bristol crowd were already at risk of whiplash from the joint fury of Jess’ chugging basslines and Balla’s hard hitting hooks. Add the twiddling percussion of Rachel (who is apparently the best at bowling) and you’ve got the eureka combination that is Peaness.

Pearness' FFO: Best Coast, The Orielles

Top Track: 'Oh George'

Next Show: The Great Escape, Brighton

Thankfully the Lanes seemed Tory-free, but if any were lingering in the woodwork then they were soon gone during the George Osbourne inspired Oh George. Fast forward through a set containing songs about unemployment (How I’m Feeling), misshaped vegetables (Ugly Veg) and good old fashioned sexual encounters (Skin Surfing), all laced with harmonies to match Buzzcocks at their best. Deeply sincere but satisfyingly saccharine, you can catch Peaness at a plethora of UK Festivals this Summer (including Great Escape and Long Division).

The penultimate act of the night was Philadelphia’s Radiator Hospital. If Frank Black was the lead character in a Wes Anderson movie, that’s roughly where we’re at with the Spook School’s cross-Atlantic pals. Celebrating the two-year anniversary of their last show with the headlining scots (as well as two band birthdays), they powered through their 40 minute set at a near Descendents level pace. This was garage punk as it should be - enthusiastic and with a deeply rooted social conscience. With highlights (other than the blisteringly brilliant songs of course) including the indiest booty shaking of the month from vocalist Sam Cook-Parrott (a name, not an instruction) and Bassist Jon Rybicki jamming happily to someone’s guitar being tuned. A UK appearance from the lairy Philadelphians is rare, but your best bet is to keep your eye on Specialist Subject for records and live shows.

Philadelphia's Radiator Hospital's FFO: Half Japanese, Throwing Muses

Top Track: 'Will You Find Me?'

Next Show: None coming up in the UK any time soon (sadface)

After a number of beguiling announcements over the PA (something about sausages), the vest wearing darlings of the queer punk masses took to the stage. Opening with the majestically empowering Still Alive (with it’s impossible-not-to-join-in chorus of “f*ck you I’m still alive!), the stoic supporters of Linda McCartney and fast-paced fuzzy punk had us hooked.

After some musings from drummer Niall (astute comparisons about The Lanes lending a Grease 2 aesthetic to the show among other things), Spook School charged with joyous abandon into some of the most beautifully crafted left-wing hymns this side of the 21st century. Burn Masculinity did what it said on the tin whilst Less Than Perfect spoke to every dispossessed 20-something in the room (“not what you hoped, but that’s okay, Teenage hopes are never less than perfect, anyway”), and to my knowledge tunes like Binary and Body put Spook School on a pedestal as a band who use their popularity to shout to the high heavens about issues of identity and anxiety that all too many of us feel - possibly in the most brazen way since Against Me’s Dysphoria Blues.

The Spook School's FFO: Dananananaykroyd, The Vaselines, The Shop Assistants

Top Track: 'Still Alive'

Next Show: The Great Escape in Brighton. Bristol aficionados can get their fix of left-field indie punk with bands like Beefywink, courtesy of Quit Yr Job Recs

But Spook School aren’t a band to be pigeonholed - they go by various labels but the best thing about the Scottish foursome and their shows is the sheer inclusivity of it all. You’d have to try really hard not to get on with them or the attendees of nights like this - defying the expectations of the ‘snowflake generation’ and proving to right-wing uncles everywhere that the queer youth of today have a party that everyone’s invited to. You only have to listen to any one of their pop-sheened songs to see the deep-rooted ‘sharing is caring’ ethos - everyone gets a turn on the mic and there’s looks of pure love shared as they play. Pulling at influences like fellow Scot staples Fire Engines and The Pastels, discerning listeners may find traces of classics like X-Ray Spex and Buzzcocks in the mix too. With their blend of hope, humour and sadness in the everyday, you could be forgiven for thinking of Frightened Rabbit too - I’d written this a few days before hearing the sad news about Scott Hutchison. Thankfully, Spook School are one of many artists stepping forward to engage in the discussion of mental health (you can listen to Niall’s thoughts on the subject here).

The night ends with a tender yet deeply entertaining cover of Robbie Williams’ Angels - enough said. Moral of the story? Be joyous. Be hopeful. Be loud. In the words of the band; You are important and valid just like everyone else.”

Tom Stockley is the founder and creative director of We Are Uncollective. He currently lives in Bristol where he dabbles in spoken word, artist management, workshops and event management. He's a Creative Producer for Under The Hill 2018.

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