The reviews for Catfish and the Bottlemen's sophomore release, "The Ride," have largely damned the British rock band with faint praise. That’s because the band writes festival-ready songs with giant choruses and just enough edge to earn the label "indie rock." It's not particularly clever music, but it gets the audience jumping and pumping their collective fists.
What gets lost in those reviews is that there's nothing inherently wrong with making crowd-pleasing music: just ask the audience at Catfish and the Bottlemen's sold-out show at the Town Ballroom Thursday night. They screamed - they screamed every word of every song and smart money bets they didn't feel cheated just because the music wasn't clever enough.
The lights blacked out and in the dark Catfish singer Van McCann crooned the first few lines of "Homesick." The music built up around him, giving the crowd about 40 seconds of anticipatory breathing room before the lights started flashing, the band crushed in and the song hit its sing-along stride.
Most every song after followed the same model: a little hook, a little charm and then a sustained anthemic moment where the room shouted every word back at McCann, who never stopped moving. Whether he was slithering around stage thrashing his guitar or standing on the monitors screaming, he was clearly as invested in every crescendo as the crowd was. (All that movement proved to be a chore for the techs working the stage, as McCann kept knocking his mic stand over. It would need to be reset several times a song. The crowd got a kick out of this, whistling every time a certain man with a mohawk had to rush out and fix things up.)
These participatory moments are Catfish and the Bottlemen's biggest strength, but they might also be the band's biggest weakness. It gets exhausting to have to come back down from one song only to rise back up to the same level of fervor for the next. Without much variation in its catalog, the band asks you to reach emotional catharsis every three-and-a-half minutes. It can be a bit much.
Still, after a string of indistinguishable festival anthems, there was always a standout track to re-energize the crowd. Songs like "Soundcheck" and "7" didn't just prick my ears back up. They reminded me of what Catfish and the Bottlemen does well: the band writes hits. If those hits are a bit straightforward and broad, that just makes it easier for the crowd to sing along.
Local band the Naturalists opened the show, drawing an interesting contrast to the main event. The Naturalists' bread and butter is '90s-inspired indie rock with catchy choruses but they're certainly a much weirder, more unique band than Catfish and the Bottlemen. The crowd dug them, but as is the case with most openers, they didn't love them with the same passion as what was to follow.
Thursday night in Town Ballroom