It's Bank Holiday Monday so who in their right mind would be heading into central London rather than staying totally clear of its high street tourist infested gridlocked carnage? The answer is about 150+ of us lucky enough to have secured tickets to see our very own Pied Piper, Mike Krol (@mikekrol) at The Social tonight. Most of us here for the show are sprawled out on the ground over the pavement, curbs, street and sidewalks chattering away about our weekend exploits and enjoying both the dregs of the sunlight and our drinks on Little Portland Street. It's all but vacant now as the sun sets behind the tall buildings replaced by neon lights and warm lamps which splash their luminescence across our backs and over the ground in front of us stretching out and distorting our shadows. Probably a good time to start heading downstairs into the concrete tombs.
I swing by the merchandise table which is to my right at the bottom of the stairs. I'm well impressed. A variety of 3 clever t-shirts and record sleeves await us. Not only does Mike 'One L' Krol play, write and sing but his also not-so-secret identity as a graphic designer by day shines through. We speak briefly upstairs about how it's his day job and that not only does he design cover art and the like for other bands but for himself as well. It's all very clever, quirky and fun, an amalgamation of costumes and pop-culture kitsch. Definitely a conversation starter.
Over to, and around, the stage all the safe seats are taken. What I'd later learn when watching this performance is that nowhere and no one would be safe once the music started. As the space has filled up I've been pushed and cajoled right to the front front. For anyone that hasn't been here before you're surrounded by stage, concrete to just above your elbow, undulating bodies and walls, you'd have a better chance getting out of an asylum riot alive than this pit. The music on offer tonight ain't your grandma's honky-tonk pianie either, things can get whipped up into a frenzy and out of control quickly. I put my earplugs in (I wish I'd brought elbow and knee pads though) and hope for the best.
The band enters with their back to us, Mike's nowhere to be seen. The lights are out(ish) and suddenly a door opens at the back of the stage, a block of red light in the shape of a door appears with Mike enveloped inside of it. He comes out, the crowd explodes and the band turns around. Everyone looks like they've been thrown out of the tour van as it's flipped over and burst into flames. (fake?) Blood runs out of face holes, Mike's got a black eye and blood coming out of his face and everyone is dressed to kill, or die (Mike Krol is never dead), albeit a bit disheveled. I don't know (or care) what's going on because it's a fuckload of a fun already and Paul the in-house sound engineer is manually strobing the stage lights from the sound booth. Mike wraps about 30m of mic cable around his arm and heads to the drum kit. He counts down, and starts beating the fucking daylights out of a symbol and we're OFF.
I'm going to borrow an analogy Iggy Pop uses in Jim Jarmusch's 2016 bio-pic Gimme Danger to describe former guitarist James Williamson. "As a guitarist, James fills the space as if somebody's just let a drug dog into your house and it's big. And he-he finds every corner...of a musical premise and of a piece of space and time and fills it up with detail. It's a very detailed approach and it's really hard to find a space to say something that he hasn't thought of or occupied". That's a pretty apt summary of watching Mike inside a venue. No one/where is safe, the first song hasn't even made it to the hook before he's climbing the walls and anything else he can latch on to. Everyone's a trouble maker in this group and bloodied. The drummer has no expression on his face and looks like the kind of guy that could have a stick of dynamite easily roll and stop at his foot, fuse burning, and casually bend over picking it up while simultaneously chucking it over his shoulder without a second thought. The lead guitarist is totally off his chain, shredding up a fucking typhoon. He's removed his glasses and I'd later find out that he can't even see when he does this. Allison, Mike's girlfriend, is blasting out lyrics and thumbing the bass like she's putting out flames.
Before I know it the show's over, and an hour+ of my life's gone missing. Miraculously I've sustained zero injuries, Mike did ask us politely not to hurt each other. Perhaps a bit of hearing loss, but generally unscathed, hazzah! Speaking of missing, it's a show not to be missed. If you HAVE missed it and are in the London area this weekend, you're in luck. Mike Krol is playing Test Pressing Festival April 27th in Hackney Wick, which still has a few tickets left. Gettem before they're gone folks!