Concert review: Shame at Spacebar

Andy Downing

Shame singer Charlie Steen began the band's Saturday concert at Spacebar by beckoning the audience to the stage.

“Come closer to me,” the frontman commanded just before the British five-piece, touring in support of its debut LP, Songs of Praise, kicked off a frenetic, 45-minute set filled with bare-knuckle riffs and paint-peeling vocals more likely to knock listeners back on their heels.

This constant push-and-pull played out in songs such as the set-opening “Dust on Trial,” which allowed tensions to build gradually, guitars pulling as tight as spring-loaded mouse traps, before releasing everything in a flurry of quick-twitch riffs, barked vocals and flailing limbs. “The Lick” walked a similar path, opening amid a thick, menacing riff and drawled, spoken-word verses before giving way to a violent outpouring of crashing guitars and desperate, larynx-wrecking shouts.

“Bathe me in blood and call it a christening,” Steen howled, punctuating the line with a rock 'n' roll baptism of sorts, spraying the crowd with water from a plastic bottle.

Between songs, Steen usually repeated some variation of the same phrase — “Smile, this is entertainment” — yet the tunes often felt deathly serious, filled with characters confronting suicide (the grim, gorgeous “Angie”), navigating toxic relationships with lecherous men (“Gold Hole”) or struggling to determine if they're walking a righteous path (“Friction”).

Regardless, the music never felt morose or defeated, the bandmates throwing themselves into the proceedings with a relentlessness that suggested there was still something worth fighting for.

Steen's dry, self-lacerating sense of humor brought further relief, exhibiting itself in everything from his stage banter — “We still have faith in the stability of the music industry,” he deadpanned at one point — to songs such as “One Rizla,” on which he took potshots at everything from his teeth (yellowed) to his wallet (empty).

Whether jabbing at himself or punching back at outside agitators, the frontman remained an undeniably magnetic presence throughout. Steen stalked the front of a stage like a wrestling heel looking for a fight, wielded the microphone stand like a hunter armed with a spear and threw himself into the waiting arms of the audience on two occasions, performing a chunk of the set-closing “Gold Hole” while held aloft by the crowd, his head nearly brushing the venue's ceiling.

Though not a nimble singer, Steen is a forceful one, and even in those numerous moments when his bandmates whipped themselves into a froth, he never struggled to make his presence felt. “I hope that you're hearing me!” he barked on “Concrete," singing with such authority it seemed as though he was trying to reach patrons down the street at Ledo's Tavern as much as anyone in actual attendance.