‘Triumphantly unapologetic indie rock’
Zach Hughes
17:58 9th February 2020

Since erupting onto the scene in 2014, Welsh four-piece Catfish and the Bottlemen have become stalwarts of sing-along indie-rock anthems, belted out by the messianic figure of frontman Van McCann. 2019 saw the band release their third album, The Balance. After touring the album across the world for the best part of last year, 2020 kicks off with an exclusive London performance as part of BRITs Week 2020 with War Child (a string of intimate performances across the UK to raise money for children affected by conflict).  

As the crowd filters into the warehouse of Exhibition London, there seems to be an almost unsettling calmness and tranquillity, unfitting of a Saturday night excursion to a rock and roll concert. Fortunately, the un-ironically named support band NOISY are having absolutely none of it. An unexpected triumph, by the end of their set three-piece from Brighton have managed to get the entire audience bouncing with their arms raised - a hallmark of any successful support act.

There’s a brief interval with the organisers and a touching speech from Oscar, a victim of childhood conflict, which offers one final moment of calm respite before the ensuing carnage. The anticipation and excitement builds and soon reaches a flashpoint. The mere soundcheck of a guitar inspires a rippling wave of screaming. As the lights dim and The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ begins to blast overhead (a staple of a Catfish performance), the crowd becomes a hive of hysteria and the air is pierced with the shattering sound of 2000 people collectively losing their minds.

As they tear into lead single, ‘Longshot’, from their latest record, it’s clear that this is going to be one of those gigs that is as relentless as it is magnificent. The audience begin to fissure apart with gaping mosh pits appearing left, right and centre. By the time the last chorus is being belted out the crowd is a bubbling pot of choral euphoria. The four-piece are on razor-sharp, fiery form. Each track is a blissful infusion of thunderous drums and heavily distorted bass and guitar.

Despite their last album drawing criticism for not expanding on their sound, when witnessing its delivery and effect in a live performance you’re hard pushed to define it as anything other than a raging success. As they belt their way through ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Soundcheck’, the mania of the crowd only intensifies. There aren’t many bands around that can whip the crowd into a hypnotic frenzy quite in the way Catfish do.

What is so striking about being amid the carnage is that song after song the crowd sings along in complete unison. As McCann works his way through the titanic 17-song set, awash with old tracks and new, the crowd’s energy matches the relentlessness of the band’s. It’s what has become synonymous with Catfish – triumphantly unapologetic indie rock emphatically hammered out to the adoring masses. As they sign off with a biblical performance of ‘Cocoon’, the screams of the crowd ring long into the night.

Photo: Aaron Crawford