Even the best of optimists would have struggled to put a positive spin on the crowd turn-out for Exit Calm at The Duchess in York (28th January). For many egotistical rock stars it might have put a downer on the performance, but the Barnsley 4-piece played as if numbers were of no importance. Despite Nicky Smith’s admission that he was suffering from a cold (“Sorry… but it’s better than cancelling”) his voice held its own; a power-house of a lad-ish roar that rides the lyrics, often for longer than you’d might expect. If anything, it gives their rapture even more of a rasp.
Opening, as last year’s ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’ album does, with ‘The Rapture’, the elements that make up Exit Calm’s sound are evident. Melodies and hints of guitar work (Rob Marshall) from Boy-era U2; The roar of Kasabian, without a focus on a mainstream sound; drums (Scott Pemberton) that echo Stone Roses’ off-Britpop sound; and a frontman with the stance of Liam Gallagher, and a voice that channels the lead vocals of all mentioned bands. Not forgetting Simon Lindley on bass, one of few players who give an equal amount energy as the lead guitarist, rather than resembling an awkward session musician. It’s almost an instant indication of what doesn’t quite work about the band in a small, underground venue like this: These songs are designed for stadiums and huge festival crowds. Should they alter their sound? Absolutely not. They still sound good; it’s just that one day, when there’s no roof to lock them in, they’ll sound better.
‘Albion’ follows, as it does on the album, those elements still working together to create one sound rather than four individual ones that are easy to pick apart. New single ‘Promise’ slows things down initially, but builds up to one of the more participation-friendly choruses (the general lack of which being one of the main differences between them and the aforementioned bands) and a rip-roaring middle-8 that sees Marshall’s guitar-work switch from Edge-esque chimes to distorted wails. Ballad-territory is touched upon with ‘Higher Bound’ (which could and should soundtrack some sort of seminal film or TV moment) followed by ‘Higher Learning’, with the lights dipped to resemble killing moons and an Echo & The Bunnymen (who Exit Calm have supported) influence hazily shining through.
An extended drum-intro to ‘Open Your Sky’ allows the individual instruments to be heard, with bass that bounces like a buoy and guitar work like waves around it. It’s the moment that should bring a huge festival crowd together as one, with chants of “It’s all just a matter of time…” and the outro of “open your sky”, followed by the equally-epic ‘Holy War’. Early favourite ‘Hearts & Minds’ closes the 60-minute set, a pulsating beat that appears to be begging for a gritty remix and delivering instant anthemia (no, that’s not a real world but it works). “It’s a fight…” Smith sings, his voice still holding out having clearly still given a knockout performance despite the crowd being a lightweight competitor. With that optimist in mind, Exit Calm And Carry On is obviously the way forward. But if they’re on the line-up of a festival you’re attending, don’t miss the chance to catch them in their natural environment.