By Alys Hewitt
Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn – AKA Sleaford Mods – have over the last few years gained great credibility as an act through their pairing of beat-driven musical minimalism with cynical, tongue-in-cheek social commentary. Their live show at Y Plas is a reminder of their formidable presence as a duo, as they explore material both from past albums and their latest release Eton Alive, which channels the same bold and abrasive energy that has come to define them.
Manchester band Liines open the show, an all-female trio evoking a blend of post-punk and the noisy alternative side of the 90s (their sound immediately reminds me of Sleater Kinney). Whilst not necessarily as chaotic or compelling as what is to come, they provide a steady opening which seems to impress Cardiff’s crowd. And, like Sleaford Mods are later to reflect, there is no messing around during their set, as they launch into song after song with a steely intensity.
Sleaford Mods’ set follows, with a performance propelled forward by a sense of anger and urgency that reverberates throughout the venue. Beginning with ‘Into the Payzone’, the opener of Eton Alive, which includes one of many sharp and repetitious lyrical hooks (‘Into the Payzone, touch card’) backed by an ominous bassline, the energy seldom seems to fade, aside from perhaps a few dips in the middle. Overall, the set remains confronting and forceful throughout; songs are littered with frequent ‘fuck’s and punctuated with the occasional yell. Yet this anger doesn’t seem contrived; Williamson’s performance, along with the sense of social awareness permeating the duo’s songs, brings a level of authenticity, even catharsis. It’s refreshing to see an act channel such realism as they peel away at the layers of pomp and pretence to expose the bleak core of everyday life.
But it’s not all anger and cynicism – there is a smart, piercing wit to Williamson’s lyrics that offers laughs and absurdity amongst the gloom (on their latest, he is found uttering lines like ‘Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson’). And although at risk of getting lost in a live setting, his lyrics are still chanted back to him by a captivated crowd. The performance of tracks such as BHS is met with a particularly receptive response, and it’s easy to see why: ‘We’re going down like BHS’ is a line which is not only refreshingly simple, but also resonant and relevant in an increasingly divided and despondent political landscape.
The set-up is strictly no-frills, with only Fearn’s laptop as accompaniment; yet his backing tracks are not to be underestimated – they fill the room with a groove that carries Williamson’s streams of consciousness, and keeps the crowd moving – particularly on tracks such as the infectious ‘Kebab Spider’. As Williamson shouts, twitches and paces across the stage, Fearn presses buttons and sways with a laid-back disposition, and their divergent stage presences compliment each other well.