The Smoking Kills
@ The Underground, Stoke
20th February 2010

Well, shit. The Underground certainly lives up to its name, its bunker-like ambience dank and dusty with the neglect of long decay. The bare concrete floor is dusted with a light coating of dirt and in a darkened corner ancient red seats haemorrhage yellowing stuffing which hangs forlornly in strips. Transcending the bleakness, The Smoking Kills light up the venue like a distress flare, emerging from the darkness in a whirlwind of sound and light.

The band walk on stage, pause long enough for singer/guitarist Paul Carter to nonchalantly announce the name of the first song and then they explode into ‘Cat and Mouse’, a sublime slice of rock/pop which sounds like The Music trying to seduce The Breeders in a downmarket indie disco. The alternating vocals of Chantal and Suzie are in turns sweet and powerful, a vacillating dynamic that seems to be the band’s trademark. This is swiftly followed by ‘Kiddo’, a song whose warmth and irrepressible bouncing riff galvanises the rather sluggish crowd into movement. The pop perfection of the ‘sha-la-la’ chorus is simply irresistible.

After a brief pause to change instruments the band tear into the appropriately named ‘Can’t Stop’, a punky little number anchored by some impressive drumming from Charles Redmond, who hits the drums as if he’s just caught them stealing his wallet. The drums intertwine with Chantal’s electric viola (yes, electric viola) to propel the song along, the vocal harmonies of Suzie and Chantal contrasting with Paul’s grittier vocals, offsetting the punk aggressiveness with sweetness. The band’s signature tune ‘3 of Clubs’ follows, beginning with an incredibly funky bassline, swiftly joined by an equally funky drumbeat and guitar, creating a song which is impossible not to dance to.

A few more dancefloor fillers later the band change pace, the urgent guitar and rather brutal drumming of ‘Starladen’ moving away from the soulful songs that preceded it. The powerful female vocals sound like Siouxsie Sioux in an unholy alliance with Karen O and combine with Paul’s soulful vocals to propel the song forward until you never want it to stop.

Two songs later the band disappear with nary a backwards look, leaving behind a jumping dancefloor seemingly populated with new fans. Growing like fragrant roses from the industrial wasteland of Stoke, The Smoking Kills are a breath of fresh air, offering a perfect synthesis of punk aggression, rock and indie. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to check them out as soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did.

Alun Thomas

Photos Katie Lowe