The Smoking Kills
@ The Kasbah, Coventry 02/04/11

The Kasbah doesn’t know what hit it. First on the bill, unveiling their new lineup and raw, stripped down sound, The Smoking Kills demolish the place. This is a big gig for them, their biggest gig so far, supporting The Sunshine Underground and Dave McCabe, a man who seems to be known to everyone, including his own mother, as That Guy From The Zutons.

They take to the stage with understated cool, showing off their new quasi-military image in a peasouper of dry ice smoke which renders the band all but invisible. Amazingly, this works in their favour, the fact that they can barely be seen nicely complementing their hazy, longing music.

They open with new song ‘Death of a Salesman’, featuring some particularly great spiky guitar from new recruit Rory. He looms out of the smoke, resplendent in military jacket, staring down at his guitar, his mop of hair obscuring his face before dissolving out of sight. Thunderous bass and drums pummel the audience like the sound of distant thunder while the guitar brings to mind the Pixies at their most jagged. Guitarist and electric violist (yes, that is a word) Chantal sings beautifully, her vocals strong and forceful, like a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Karen O. Her singing has definitely matured since I last saw the band, her impassioned vocals adding a new dimension to the uncertainty and doubt of the lyrics. When she sings ‘there’s not another way’ or ‘wait, you’re not the only one’, the desperation in her delivery is palpable. Strength in the midst of doubt. The Smoking Kills write songs of desperation and fear, couched in some of the most uplifting pop music you’re likely to hear, a paradox that defines the band. Songs like ‘Kiddo’ and ‘Starladen’ are so catchy and danceable that it’s easy to forget about the darkness of the words they’re singing.

Almost before we know it they’ve progressed from the bouncy and uplifting ‘Kiddo’, on which Chantal and lead guitarist Paul Carter share vocals, the audience joining in with the joyous ‘what’s that kiddo?!’ of the verses, to the almost menacing grind of ‘Out of Line’, on which their newfound military aesthetic is fully in evidence in some particularly great parade-ground drumming courtesy of Charles Redmond, who hits the skins throughout with deceptive nonchalance. All too quickly they’ve blasted through ‘Moving On’ and ‘Alone’ to the sublimely beautiful ‘Starladen’, with which they close the show. It begins with a distinctive angular guitar solo before the rest of the band explode in like a grenade filled with glitter. They finish the song with a knowingly absurd Guns ‘n’ Roses-style Big Rawk Outro, leaving the audience baying for more. Chantal turns, smiles regretfully and then they’re gone.

It’s clear that the band have matured since the last time I saw them. Armed with a darker sound and a tighter lineup, the Smoking Kills have reached their peak. Despite the comparisons which litter this review like cigarette butts in the gutter, by this stage The Smoking Kills have fully transcended their influences and sound like no-one but themselves. Every song has its own unique character; they’re a band who defy comparison and categorization, a band you really have to see for yourself. To put it simply, The Smoking Kills are brilliant, have always been great and have just hit their top form. They’re going to be huge, so go see them in a small venue while you still can.

Alun Thomas