Making a name for yourself away from Maltese shores is certainly no mean feat that is achieved by the mediocre.
For the talented few who do achieve it, the temptation to forget all about the tiny audience back home must be pretty irresistible.
Which is why I have a lot of respect for those musicians who don’t, and who still manage to keep a regular tie to their original fans in Malta, the same fans who probably gave them the initial impetus to pursue their artistic dream.
One such group of musicians is made up of the three lads who together form Cable 35. What started out as a local offering has now grown into a discreetly successful Britain-based band, as a quick peek at their gig schedule (absolutely packed with destinations like Berlin, Ghent, Utrecht and Glasgow, among others) will confirm.
The happy news is that they return to the fold pretty regularly, much to the delight of those who follow the alternative music scene. Their latest stint in Malta coincided with the launch of their new album, Fungus Rock , which they launched officially during this year’s Rock the South festival – a rocking performance that was followed by a full-length gig at the first edition of Hard Rock After Dark Alternative Saturdays. The latter are a series of events featuring alt-rock bands and DJs, transforming the place from a diner into a performance venue.
Perhaps surprisingly for those who are used to the regular diner atmosphere at Hard Rock, the location does lend itself well to this sort of thing. The dining tables were cleared away after dark, so to speak, creating a dancefloor/mosh pit area right in front of the stage.
From what I hear from local bands, finding an appropriate venue is usually quite an issue and we are used to attending gigs in the same two/three locations, which can get a tad boring. Not to mention that it must be a pain for the bands themselves to co-ordinate dates.
This particular venue had all the ingredients typically required to get things rocking: space, good sound, access to booze and snacks and, something which comes as a bonus for most of the targeted crowd, it’s slap bang in the middle of Paceville – which means that everyone is close to their favourite watering holes right after the gig. I applaud Hard Rock for the initiative and urge the usual suspects to give it a try.
On to the music. DJ duo The Car Crashers (Chris Radium and Ryan Abela) warmed up the crowd with a selection of alternative, rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly and punk. Anyone who is versatile enough to include the likes of The Avalanches, The Ramones and Pulp on their setlist gets my vote.
One word to the audience – dancing is not a crime. And a round of applause to the bunch of pretty young things who weren’t too shy to hit the dancefloor and get things moving.
By the time Cable 35 got themselves on stage, everyone was raring to go. The advantage of this type of venue is that it is quite intimate and really facilitates crowd interaction. This was something that Jeffrey Zerafa (guitars and vocals), Kriz Zahra (bass and vocals) and Chris Mallia (drums) took full advantage of, launching into their performance with a series of quips that set the tone for what was to be an informal, super-casual gig.
I say this in the best way possible, as (apart from the music itself) one of Cable 35’s biggest selling points is precisely how these three musicians come across as very down-to-earth and boys-next-door. No traits of the diva about them, which is very refreshing from an audience point of view.
As for the music itself, there is nothing casual about it. Cable 35 are all about the very distinctive sound of grunge and,
amid the abrasive riffs and harsh vocals, there is a decidedly professional approach that certainly contributes a lot to the band’s success and staying power.
The gig included all the old favourites – Cow Head, with its intro that pulls no punches; Fact in Spain, which is one of my favourites due to its strongly haunting bass solo; the relatively mellower and made-to-sing-along-to Come Down to Party; Crops, with its insistent refrain that seems to raise the tempo a notch with every repetition; and Bobby Funk, that owes a lot to the particularly unmistakable vocals.
I was also glad to see that Rental Sunshine, the single from new album Fungus Rock, has already become a favourite with the crowd.
From the initially hard bassline to the vocals – alternating between the shrill refrain that is the trademark of grunge and an eerier tones for the verses – to the intermittently softer bass solo, this track has what it takes to be the new album’s ambassador.
The set also included a cover of that evergreen punk anthem, The Ramones’ Blietzkrieg Bob, in a wisely-straightforward rendition that delivered all the elements that make it such a well-loved classic.
In short, this was a fair well gig worthy of the name, as the lads have already left Malta to continue with their Fungus tour while you read this.
Cable 35’s new single, Rental Sunshine, can be downloaded for free from www.cable35.co/free. Hard Rock After Dark returns on May 18 with The Car Crashers & Beangrowers. For more information, visit the Facebook page.
THIS REVIEW WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE SUNDAY TIMES OF MALTA.