By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
You’d be forgiven for saying that you’ve never heard of Blackfoxxes, but if their headline gig at the Tufnell Park Dome last night is anything to go by, you’ll be hearing of them pretty fucking sharpish. They’re not so much rock, but they’re more like being smashed over the head with a rock. Whilst they’re big believers in Slow Jams Forever, it just means that their heavy riffs tear you to pieces for longer.
Frontman extraordinaire Mark Holley walked on stage looking inconspicuous, slowly jamming the opening chords of I’m Not Well, the title track of their debut album, I’m Not Well, an album which tackles heavy themes, including blowing the discussion on mental health wide open. Whilst I could rattle off for hours about this, it feels so good that someone’s gone out there and channelled their MH issues into jams. It helps to normalise a serious & widespread issue and if he’s able to talk so eloquently and passionately about it, hey, maybe I can too.
It’s at this point I’d like to point out I have a memory like a sieve, and the band were kind enough to provide me with their setlist. Anecdotally I remember the gig, especially when they played Slow Jams Forever and Maple Summer, two brilliant songs off their debut album, you get the picture, go buy the album. As you’ll find out over the next few paragraphs, this gig was way more than the content of the setlist.
Plus it helps me to remember what the new songs were called, oh yes, there were new songs, and if they’re anything to go by, Blackfoxxes’ sophomore album, which will be out next year, apparently, is going to be a stormer. Mark Holley introduced, I’m gonna say, Manic in Me (which I dubbed Mannequin Me, and if that name appears on the album it might as well be called We’re Getting Sued by Oliver Butler), which he said will be “A big radio song”, and he’s right. That song will only drive the band forward, as it parcels their heavy, driving sound and lyrical theme into an accessible format. Your dad could listen to that without complaining how it’s a ‘bloody racket’. It’s a punchy, raughty number, which prompted a rockstar walk-off at the end of it, because standing around with your hands in your pockets just isn’t the appropriate ending.
The setlist was absolutely perfect, with choice cuts like Husk, How We Rust and Whatever Lets You Cope cherry picked from I’m Not Well, and the new songs, including fuckin’ Flowers already feeling like your favourites. Could they have played Pines? Absolutely, but you didn’t miss it, there was too much good stuff at the Blackfoxxes buffet for you to even notice.
Mark Holley is a man who allows his guitar to drag him around stage, fuelled by the energy and passion of his music. Which is why it was surprising that a man who played with so much energy and passion to announce that he suffers from Chron’s disease, another theme of I’m Not Well, and that he had a really bad relapse and should be in hospital right now, and that he was trying to get through the set as quick as possible so he could take himself to said hospital. No urgency, no worry, just casually announcing that he needed to go to hospital like he needed to pop to the supermarket. And that folks, is rock & roll, a man who should be in hospital put himself on stage and put in the performance of his life, no grumbling, no slowdown, because if he hadn’t told us he wasn’t well, we’d never have guessed it, because he was so committed to giving the show of his life.
Ending on the anthemic and “oh-woah-woah-oh-oh-oh”-ing River, the fierce heart of Blackfoxxes beat strong as everyone in that room had a reason to belt out that song. Some, because well, they were the band, others because that song and this gig has more meaning than a song and a gig.
I guess the theme of the review isn’t about the songs they played, but just the general theme of the gig. The fact that their songs normalise being unwell in one way shape or form, that we’re all normal, things just get a bit fucked sometimes, but to have someone speak so freely about it in their songs is amazing. And on top of that, the fact that the lead singer should have been in hospital but took it all on stage and left it there, not going through the motions of a performance, but putting on the show of his life for the fans.
That’s fucking real, kids.