It’s the last flickers of December and I’m out to see a festive triptych of rock, rock and yet more rock. Rock un – local chest-beaters The Ruby Jacks; Rock dos – local street preachers The Payroll Union; and Rock drei – local organisers, movers, talkers, jokers, oh and musicians Hot Soles. But it’s a bit weird because the last time I was in the Plug it didn’t have Tokyo-aping (or should that be Gorzilla-ing?) neon signage, cutesy anime murals or elaborate tinsel penguins and polar bears. I get the penguins and the bears, and the Faux–kyo fixtures are cool… Yet totally at odds with the holiday vibes Hot Soles are trying to cook up. But then if I had my way we’d all be in Santa outfits, supping mulled wine and butchering our favourite hymns.
This is just a great rock show. The Ruby Jacks are on first, with a quiet greeting and the guitarist cautiously checking his equipment. What follows is both familiar and excellent, classic rock vocals carried along by a concise and varied palette of Johnny Marr-ian arpeggios, clipped funk and gruff overdrive. If The Ruby Jacks’ singer knows how to make an anthem, the lead guitarist knows how to make sculpt melody lines down to the bone whether he’s building atmosphere or in the spotlight of a solo. There’s some fluffed notes and the lads are too conscientious to have much stage presence, however they cover a lot of ground within a few songs and handle their songs as exactingly as their haircuts. Totally un-Christmas, and thank God for that.
The Payroll Union are on next, dressing like malnourished undertakers and slinking like David Byrne; beards jet-black and grisly, wearing stares (the singer especially) that could pummel children. No need to worry though, they’re as welcoming as sleigh bells once they get going, with a clutch of blues paeans to the Old West, husbandry and bad women. As old hands to the Sheffield scene, their set is as lean as they are, packed with catchy melodies and music you can dance on a grave to. Again – not Christmas-y.
Now Hot Soles. Please release a record called ‘Hot Buttered Soles’, and then recreate the original Isaac Hayes cover art. This would be fantastic for at least two (sorry, I mean ‘du’) reasons. Because it would be funny and I know how you like to kid. Most importantly, you’re the antithesis of Hayes’ smoothly orchestrated yearning; more like a debauched hunger pang. And then you score points for a few things – being quick on your feet (even at Christmas). Headbanging at the drumkit. Headbanging at the microphone. Headbanging during a cover of ‘Last Christmas’ (the best song that ever lived). You give people the jitters basically. And you have a foam machine spluttering to your soundtrack of infectious garage rock played on expensive guitars through cheap amplifiers. You’re show is both the most Christmas-y and least Christmas-y thing all night, like a manic midnight mass. Same again next year?