It’s been almost a year since I last saw Bang Bang Romeo live. That’s not to say they haven’t been playing the gigs, indeed their multiple appearances at the Tramlines last year made them one of the most talked about acts of the festival, it’s just that the vagaries of my day job and life in general have conspired against me, so I’ve simply not had the opportunity to get to their gigs, no matter how local they were to me. It is this twinge of regret which has effectively fed my own anticipation for this evening. However, recent months have seen the band sign a much deserved record deal, there’s a new EP in the works and 2015 generally looks to be a vital year for the band, so the entire venue is crackling with energy by the time they arrive on stage.
A brief mid-stage huddle by the band is ended as they turn around and plough into “Carnival”, a song which has become their calling card over the past year. It has always been a potent tune, but this time, something is different. Something obvious. This is not the same band I last saw tearing up The Leadmill eleven months ago.
As good as Bang Bang Romeo were when I first encountered them, as a band they are now much, much better. The seemingly psychic connection between Joel Phillips and Richard Gartland has become even more potent, and with Gartland’s drumming perfectly mixed for the venue, his affable presence makes itself known despite being sat behind his three bandmates and a drum kit. Too many drummers think they have to play the wild-man to make an impression on their audience. Gartland is a healthy contrast to that, as he understands the simple fact that no matter how flash you are, if you haven’t got the appropriate skill and technique, you’re just not going to cut it. With co-responsibility for Bang Bang Romeo’s rumbling undercurrent, Gartland’s brother in rhythm, Joel Phillips remains an instantly recognisable stage presence in his trademark big coat and his bass playing is responsible for so much of the driving force behind the band’s music, and never more so than tonight. Again, it’s a role that so many other bass players manage to get wrong, but somehow Phillips has nailed it to perfection.
While Bang Bang Romeo’s rhythmic engine room having upped their game in the last year, guitar-wrangler Ross Cameron has also seemingly found the next level on his playing too. Having long mastered the art of being a first rate-guitar player with minimum ego, tonight his razor-sharp riffs cut that little bit deeper and his treble-heavy sound results in a heady blend of control without sounding too restricted. Be it the galloping riff of “Reach Out”, or the sixties spy-movie vibe of “Johannesburg”, tonight confirms that Cameron is a guitar player who manages to balance being an absolute master of the six string, without the unnecessary guitar-god theatrics.
If the gentlemen of Bang Bang Romeo have made improvements in their craft over the last twelve months, then vocalist Anastasia Walker has made even more gains in her stagecraft. Of course, that emotionally devastating voice has always been there, but in the time since I last saw them on stage, Walker has blossomed into a front-woman of unmistakable power and brilliance. Where previously she seemed perhaps unsure of the magnitude of her talents, giving mere hints of her potential, tonight she has the audience exactly where she wants them from the outset, as she concocts a captivating blend of raw power, confident sexuality, strength of character, and utter vitality. Be she thrashing her hair about centre stage, reaching out to her rapt audience over the edge of the stage, or standing absolutely motionless while she unleashes her extraordinary voice, she has us all in the palm of her hand, absolutely confirming the fact that Anastasia Walker has raised herself from being a brilliant front-woman to being a very special and unique talent.
As the sweat drips down from the ceiling onto the biggest audience I’ve ever seen in The Plug, Walker tips a bottle of water over her hair and Cameron raises his telecaster to throw out another jagged riff, I take in a scene that I realise I may not get chance to see for much longer – Bang Bang Romeo are going to be graduating to bigger venues in the very near future.
I implore you, experience Bang Bang Romeo on the live stage as soon as you can, because if tonight is anything to go on, and the current trajectory of their development, they are potentially on the cusp of extraordinary success.