Catfish and the Bottlemen are getting everything they want.
It’s happening fast, too. The foursome was selling out two-hundred capacity dive bars and tiny venues nine months ago, then cramming festival tents and stages on both sides of the Atlantic all summer long. Fast forward to a cool autumn night at the Fillmore, a historic 1,000-capacity venue where, on this particular night, the queue to enter rivals the maximum capacity of the venues that played host to the dates of their first American tour.
Signs of the band’s ascension are everywhere. Frontman Van McCann oozes newfound confidence with every energetic stride, assured in the knowledge that he is nearly finished transforming into the svelte bandleader he always envisioned himself to be. Save for McCann’s propensity for wearing all black, everything has changed in the last nine months: the songs are sleeker, the lighting is more spectacular, the transitions between songs are smoother, the members no longer collide with each other during solos, the stages have quadrupled in size, and the crowds have multiplied to see it all unfold. The obvious ambition remains, but this time it manifests in McCann owning the stage with an air of rock ‘n’ roll professionalism, pounding at his guitar and leaning on the microphone stand in a half-Joey Ramone, half-Julian Casablancas stance. Tumblr christened him an indie hero long ago and he’s finally living up to the title.
But as one of those attendees of the dark dive bar shows of that first American tour, I have to wonder at the cost of this transformation. McCann’s wide-eyed joy at the relatively small turnouts in February was endearing. His repartee was easy and intimate, sets were raw and ended in guitars hanging from wires on the ceiling, genuine interaction was the norm. He never ventured near that persona this time around, opting instead for frequent refrains of “Thank you, San Francisco!” or “Are you still with me, San Francisco?” (We were.) He couldn’t let five minutes pass without reminding the crowd of which city we were in that moment, making it all too easy to imagine replacing each “San Franciscooooo!” with “Miamiiiii!” or “Chicagoooo!” or any other location with a name ripe for syllabic extension.
But a band best not be too harshly judged for streamlining their performances in tandem with their increasing popularity. Catfish and the Bottlemen have rehearsed themselves to near-flawlessness – standouts include 26 and Business (broken string notwithstanding on the latter) – and the crowd loves it. No song finishes without a spirited singalong or a few joyous cheers during the quieter verses. Only a few songs slip by unaided by a spotlight shone directly at McCann’s position on stage, as though there was any doubt as to who of the four is the figurehead.
If the other three members feel left out, they don’t show it. Drummer Bob Hall anchors the set with intensity and finesse, adding all the right flourishes in all the right places. The band hits maximum synchronicity during “Tyrants”, as dazzling a finale in the Fillmore as it is in any tiny dive bar. It’s those moments of powerful resilience that reveal the sturdy core of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s staggering ascent; and, if I may be so bold, seem to guarantee that everything – the songs, the lights, the stages, the crowds – can only continue to get bigger from here.
Which, might I add, is exactly what this band wants. -Review by Elle Coxon.