Islington Assembly Hall – 20th July

You have to hope that Sheer Mag don’t read all the nice things written about them. Excitable music journalism and rave reviews have given the Philly five-piece something to prove, whether they like it or not. How does a three-year-old-band, with a debut album just out the gates, digest such over-engineered assessments as ‘the woke AC/DC’ without crumbling under the aggrandisement, or breathing in their own hype? As they cut a major swathe across Europe in promotion of Need to Feel Your Love, it’s a premature sink-or-swim moment in Sheer Mag’s career that needs to see them putting in the shows of their lives to meet, perhaps unfair, expectations.

TV Crime make the most of a sparse early bird turnout by bringing a spirited display of lovingly-aped 70s rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Hooligans’ sounds big, and their sunny northern soul is infectious in its full-riff, no-frills dynamic. Terry are harder to characterise, looking and sounding like the band Wes Anderson would have had playing in the Titty Twister if he’d had a crack at From Dusk Til Dawn. There are cowboy hats, there are electro-country elements, there is a keyboardist made out of papier-mâché called, well, Terry. It’s all a little sweaty and rattled, the sound of ‘Take Me to the City’ living up to their bedroom band meets bar rock aesthetic, across a performance that’s oddly charming if loose around the waist.

Sheer Mag have played big shows in London before. Last year’s headline appearance at The Dome showed they had pulling power, running on the momentum of some killer early EPs, but tonight will provide the first chance for them to gut-punch audiences with material from their full-length (barely a week old), and a chance to move from promising curio into genuine leaders of the revival pack. For what it’s worth, Sheer Mag sound big tonight. Where the production on Need to Feel Your Love captures the grainy rawness of the time with warts-and-all authenticity, in a live setting guitars attack and snares pop, while Tina Halladay’s vocals round out to warmer tones than the ragged edge on-record. ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ sounds truly urgent and ‘Meet Me In The Street’ inherits a new sense of Clashian danger in a room full of warm bodies.

But do Sheer Mag make sense in a venue this size? Based on tonight’s display, the answer is ‘Yes, but not yet’. You can’t help but think that both band and audience would be happier with the stage lowered, barriers down and walls brought in. On-stage and pouring from the PA, the band valiantly tries to generate an atmosphere, but the space is tough to fill. Need to Feel Your Love calls for sticky floors and overzealous smoke machines, with Tina close enough to share sweat with the crowd. Under the slightly sterile lighting of the Assembly Hall the closeness of their sound gets lost, and that’s a shame. For now, Sheer Mag’s place at the head of the rock ‘n’ roll resurgence seems secured, but it might be one more round before the effect completely convinces.

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