Fat White Family in Whelan’s, Dublin, on February 2nd 2016
There’s a crackle in the air, as if the wrong word from bandmate or crowd could completely turn the mood; sour the stage or render it the scene of an ecstatic frenzy. It’s there from the moment Brixton six-piece Fat White Family move onto the Whelan’s stage – an element of the unknown. The dynamic between singer Lias Saoudi and guitarist Saul Adamczewski in particular appears tautly wound, a glance or a whisper in an ear seeming like a further flame to a short fuse. That trace of volatility is what makes this set so fucking great.
The chaotic, kinetic atmosphere had been well set up for the main act when Shame ripped through their half-hour support slot, their ankle-cast clad bassist no less animated than his colleagues despite the injury. He’s just about tethered to a stool as the frontman channels Curtis one second and Lydon the next, glaring into the crowd with a Bavaria in hand. We’ll be seeing these two again before the night’s out.
Fat White Family have always appeared to be hanging together by a thread – numerous drummers, replacement bassists, Adamczewski’s heroin addiction that led to a recent spell in rehab – but there’s an edge behind all of that which manifests itself when they’re in front of the crowd. Adamczewski, eyes underscored with dark circles, takes up position wearing a large Stetson hat. Saoudi grasps a mic and spits on it, raising a crutch borrowed from the support band’s injured bassist, instantly conducting mayhem via Tinfoil Deathstar and stepping into the crowd to be engulfed by about-to-be-bruised bodies.
By the second song Adamczewski has lost his Stetson and Saoudi his shirt, and the latter descends once more into the crowd for the mantra-like mid-section of Auto Neuron. When the chant reaches its crescendo, the ground nearest the stage erupts – as it does often over the course of the dozen songs – the first few rows in the sold-out room making up for those less inclined to join the nest of slamming bodies.
The crowd are in full voice for the new wave pub rock swagger of Is It Raining In Your Mouth?, although a persistent microphone issue seems to plague Saoudi into I Am Mark E Smith. He appropriates guitarist Adam J Harmer’s, his high notes echoing those of Adamczewski’s on a rumbling Cream Of The Young. By this stage of the set the pit is a mass hop, moving en masse from side to side and affirming the repeated, escalating admission of “I’m so easily satisfied.”
Fat White Family’s meanderings between punk, country, rock and crazed funk are helmed by Saudi’s magnetism onstage, striking a cruciform pose one minute then immediately crumpling into an Iggy Pop contortion the next. Wild American Prairie’s Fall-like start morphs into freak country – Dead Kennedys burning through Nashville – with Saoudi hurling himself in to the morass for a surf, deposited back to slow the momentum with the louche, celebratory vitriol of Garden Of The Numb.
After a raucous Touch The Leather he invites Shame’s singer to join him onstage and rips his shirt off. They’re instantly brothers in arms, draped over one another as the crowd surfers make their presence felt. Even their broken bassist can’t let this opportunity pass, joining them with crutch aloft and leg similarly so. It’s an anarchic end to an anarchic gig – you just didn’t know where this one was going to end up. Ultimately, it just turned out to be a mesmerising, primed, good ol’-fashioned rock-out.