With the heavens drizzling down on us and the queue moving like a sea of shivers towards the open doors, it was clear that not even the rain could wash the smiles off our faces. Having seen Catfish And The Bottlemen two times before, the second just a week before I arrived in Exeter, I was eager to experience my first gig away from home. Inside the Great Hall the crowd was heaving with an energy that can only be described as electric, as throngs of revellers gathered in front of the stage.
Kicking off the show was support act The London Souls, whose rock and roll sound tinged with a hint of blues managed to get the crowed swinging and swaying. Tash Neal’s vocals were particularly enthralling, with his rough, heavy voice contrasting with Chris St. Hilaire’s softer, subtle harmonies. As The London Souls finished their set, a playlist of jazz tunes along with the obligatory Arctic Monkey’s Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? filled the air, allowing us to prep our vocals for later.
Donning their usual black attire and the self-assured stance of a fully-fledged rock quartet, Catfish And The Bottlemen were the spark that lit the crowd into a frenzy of embers. Launching into Rango the crowd lurched and moved as one to the band’s infectiously gritty guitar riffs, with an unavoidable mosh pit forming near the front. In a searing display of showmanship Van cloaked us in the ebullience of euphoria, his calls to the crowd to sing louder taken as an order duly accepted by everyone.
Showering us with hits from The Balcony such as Kathleen, Business and Fallout the band were often drowned out by the crowd shouting the words back to them. During the acoustic solo of Hourglass the crowd seemed to resemble a cacophonic choir – with the drunken bands of friends and sober soppies crooning along to the mellow song. Trailing back from the mike to peer at the crowd in his familiar way, Van seemed somewhat surprised at the reaction he was given. With an ocean of hands sailing into the air to almost every song, it was clear that Exeter was the ship steering Catfish And The Bottlemen off to an amazing tour.
About halfway through their set he abandoned his guitar, twirled the mike lead around his hands and demonstrated his frontman credentials with a solo of their new song 7. Tight and trippy, it was the perfect condiment to an already impressive setlist and left me extremely excited to hear their new album. Whilst it’s clear that Catfish And The Bottlemen have accepted Van as their natural leader, Bondi, Benji and Bob’s input was equally as impressive with the trio keeping a more relaxed, but essential, poise onstage.
What struck me the most about Catfish And The Bottlemen was how humble they were at the end of the show. With the penultimate song Cocoon causing some to perch on top of their friend’s shoulders and others, like me, to sing and grin along to the lyrics, it’s clear that the band are still shocked by the effect they have on their fans. As the final song Tyrants came to a close and the other members loped off stage, Van hung around to repeat his thanks to a crowd still buzzing for more. Wiping sweat from his brow and smiling as if in awe as he walked off, I can’t help but gaze at the retreating figure wishing that like Groundhog Day, I could repeat this night forever.