Cats in Space

The Garage, London

16 March 2019

I'm down here for a weekend of folk music in the comfortable, acoustically-perfect setting of King's Place, and on paper it seemed a bit crazy to break that up and spend three hours of Saturday night standing on a sticky floor in a concrete box and listen to badly amplified rock music. But as soon as I walked in to The Garage and fumbled my way through the gloom to the merch desk, with too-loud Led Zep and Rush blasting over the PA, and looked round at the crowd of slightly over-the-hill, long haired (if they're lucky) people in familiar t-shirts, I thought... yes. This is where I belong. I only play at being a folkie. Proper rock is always going to be my first love. And Cats in Space are my new favourite thing.

I saw Cats in Space supporting Deep Purple 18 months ago but this is my first chance to see them play a headlining set, and they don't disappoint at all. They're a fairly new band, but they're not a young band. The members have been around for long enough that they understand how to put on a proper rock show. With six people on the tiny stage they don't have a lot of room to move around, but they still make sure they keep it visually interesting. The guitar players do just the right amount of posing, singer Paul Manzi is a theatrical focus in an awesome costume and leading you on a story through his song introductions, they understand when their audience wants to clap and when we want to sing, and they all look like they're just having great fun on stage. It's the perfect live package.

And musically they can't be faulted. Proper rock with twin lead guitars trading riffs and solos (and let's be honest, twin lead guitars is one of mankind's greatest inventions) backed by catchy keyboard riffs and driven by thunderous drums and bass, and soaring vocals with four- and five-part vocal melodies. It's a powerful set, barely a hint of a ballad in sight, and it's utterly exhilarating, but still always beautifully melodic. A fair bit of the set came from the new album, which I haven't heard yet, but it didn't matter because the songs are instantly catchy and accessible. Choruses you have to sing along with, rhythms you have to clap along with, but still enough variety and intelligence in the song structures to lift them above the mediocrity that passes for rock these days. Proper rock, the way it should be.

And I need to praise the support band, Blue Nation, who apparently stepped in at the last minute to replace Rock Goddess. I'd never heard of them before, but they impressed me massively. They're very young, and initially look like they're on the wrong tour, but they are solid musicians with a good bunch of rock songs. And, unusually for an unknown support band, they immediately establish a fantastic rapport with the audience and win us over with their humour and charisma. And, crucially, they understand that they are here to warm us up for the main band, and they do just that. Really impressive act, and I hope they go on to much bigger things because they really deserve it.

So, yes. I came staggering out of the venue with my knees and feet and back telling me I'm too old to jump up and down for two hours, but I still felt like skipping, not walking, back to the hotel. Because that's how uplifiting proper rock music is.

The best concert I've ever seen. Honestly, I can't praise Cats in Space enough. My new favourite band.