The Maze is usually associated with well known artists (Jake Bugg, for example) performing “intimate” shows, and with its small capacity and stage you can get right up to, it’s ideal for this. So for the venue to boast not two, but three stages for the night came as a shock to me. However, this is what made up Load of Meat Festival, with almost twenty bands across the acoustic, upstairs and main stage. Made up of a plethora of locals artists and headlined by Nottingham trio On The Open Road, the festival filled the venue with keen enthusiasm and potential.
With the intimate atmosphere you see at American club gigs with the likes of Real Friends headlining, Apodyopsis took to the stage – well, all bar vocalist Joe Butler took to the stage, whilst the frontman took up residence in the shallow end of the crowd. With not enough space for more than a handful of the audience to join in the chaos, it managed to feel very close to watching a practise session with a vocalist on the loose. Regardless, the show proved to be tight, with a smothering sound leaving you all but deafened between tracks, closing with the unoriginal but enthusiastic choice of Killing In The Name Of, which created a warm reaction from the crowd, and loosened up inhibitions.
As the quintet finished up the main stage, attention shifted to the other side of the room where on the acoustic stage Derbyshire duo Those Two were setting up. After opening with a rendition of Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks to a cheering crowd, the pair’s set continued in the manner of covers, including Radiohead’s Creep, and only featured two original tracks. Whilst at a festival it probably seems appealing to “play it safe” by choosing songs the crowd will know, it takes an exceptional artist to sell their own work without playing it, and cover-saturated sets seemed a theme for the evening.
On the upstairs area of the festival, another Derbyshire trio (Further Than Forever) took control. On the smallest stage I’ve ever seen – the stage almost twice the size of the crowd area and a technical area as big as the stage – the small rock band were clearly confined by the area. In between tracks off their album Shelter, released just under a year ago, the band slotted in a few covers of their own – Foo Fighters’s Everlong and Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me – which held the same gritty energy.
On the acoustic stage, Richard Jenkins continued to tide the music along, holding both attention and potential, before Nottingham pop-punk quartet (plus extra vocalist) Hello Tomorrow took to the main stage. Here came a real influx of covers; Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive, Blink 182’s All The Small Things, All Time Low’s Damned If I Do Ya and (pop-punk wanna-be favourite) Fountains Of Wayne’s Stacy’s Mom. Whilst their look (from the plaid shirts to the super-skinny jeans) and the songs they played held a hint of the “pop-punk” idea, they seemed to hold neither the enthusiasm nor the originality that the genre implies.
As aforementioned, a set of covers only really works if the artist adds something to the show; the solo show from Adam Zareba proved to be the perfect example of this. Selling his own work with only charisma and an implication of phenomenal competence, his crowd charming attitude and adaptable attitude made his set irresistible. Opening with a mix of The Killers’s Mr. Brightside and The Rembrandts’s I’ll Be There For You, the smooth transitions and control over the crowd set the night up for an excellent close. This control continued through his rendition of The Proclaimers’s 500 Miles and Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag, where he abruptly stopped the set to request a female singer for the appropriate section, and again to compliment the men joining in on their high singing. The acoustic stage finished up with Adam’s solid cover of Busted’s Year 3000, the perfect warm up for the final set of the night.
The headlining trio, On The Open Road – made up of Tom Hawk (vocals/guitar), Dan Abey (bass) and Ollie Green (drums) – were the most deserving band of the night to hold the audience’s full attention. After the percussion opening settled itself out, Tom’s solid and sophisticated vocals wove themselves into the track, just hearable through the instrumental and touches of feedback, all supported by the prominent bassline that drive the set. A few minor adjustments after the first track (“talk amongst yourselves!” Tom laughs whilst they fine tune) lead to an even more refined sound, with the vocals high enough for the frontman to display his impressive range.
A quick round of applause for a quick change from electric to acoustic guitar commenced the start of the token (and brilliantly executed) acoustic track of the night – by far the most passionate of the set. Tom’s vocals soared across the track, injecting powerful emotion into refrain, “I want what’s best for you”. Penultimate Prom Song is performed with the confidence and comfort of a band who’ve been playing the track their whole life; many bands have a frequently played track that all fans want to see played by them, and for On The Open Road, Prom Song is it.
What makes to be the closing track begins with a flurry of drums, and as it closes it seems the crowd aren’t ready to call it a day, with an overwhelming encore bringing the instruments back for a final try. A ripple of excitement passes through the crowd as they announce they’ll be playing Rainy Days, and not slowing for a moment, the band bring the set to an abrupt yet apt close.