When you see a band live, you arrive with a certain level of expectation. Live music is about atmosphere, energy and a certain sense of intimacy that comes with seeing a band or artist recreate their art for you on stage. If your expectations are met, you leave not only happy, but with a deeper connection with the band thereafter. I had Crooks at a disadvantage before this show as my expectations had been simmering ever since their debut EP Nevermore captivated me back in 2012. Despite this internal pressure, it took only the first minute of the evening’s opening track to realize that my expectations were about to boil over.
Crooks are a five-piece act from Cheltenham in the UK, playing a fast, energetic brand of post-hardcore accentuated by regular tempo-changes, melodic vocals and intricate guitar work. It’s a formula that has recently earned them a record deal with Headphone Music, an imprint of Equal Vision Records, who will be releasing the band’s debut full-length album later this year. It’s also a formula that leaves a lasting impression in a live setting. The drums hit you first; heavy hitting, fast and frenetic but played with absolute precision, setting the momentum for the whole set with constant rhythmic inertia. The guitar work is tight and intricate during the softer moments, yet angular and biting when the aggression is needed, providing the perfect accompaniment to singer Josh Rogers, whose vocal approach is similarly dual-edged.
At first Rogers appears awkward on stage, timidly cupping the microphone with his hands as he delivers the softer side of his vocals, but as the songs burst to life so does his demeanor, his frame bounding around the stage as he feeds off the energy of the music. This level of passion is often conjured as part of a stage performance, but it’s clear that for Crooks this is no act. Far from being awkward, his presence is an expression of the emotion in each song. Seeing Rogers live every note that he sings is captivating and infectious and that emotion transcends the stage to flow through the audience as well.
For all the excitement the musicianship brings, it’s the song-writing that really brings these elements to life. Many bands have musicians that can play their instruments well, but it’s rare to hear instrumentation this busy without it detracting from the songs themselves. This isn’t a band warring against each other for a space in the spotlight, it’s is a harmony of excellent musicians perfectly balancing the need to make an artistic impression with the right level of restraint for the sake of the composition. Though this was true of the Nevermore EP, the new songs demonstrate an even deeper progression in this area. While still capturing the same sound from Nevermore, there’s a bigger divide between the aggressive and melodic moments, making each transition even more impactful and memorable.
If the recorded versions of these songs capture the vibrancy and passion of the live environment, this album should put Crooks well and truly on the map. Judging by the new video for “A Few Peaceful Days”, a song which the band released in March to showcase their new material, they’ll do just that. Despite the modest size of the crowd, Crooks put everything they had into this performance and I’d recommend they take a mental picture of this scant audience for the memory banks, because when their debut album drops later in the year, these rooms will be filling up fast. With the backing of Equal Vision Records, this could be the start of a bright future for this UK five-piece; a future they certainly deserve based on this performance.