Sultans of Ping @ The Duchess, York 12/05/12
It was this evening I learned that Sultans of Ping frontman Niall O’Flaherty, a hero of mine since my mid-teens, is also a history lecturer. I felt like I’d just unmasked Batman. But it all fits into place, the Sultans’ debut album (and masterpiece in its own right) Casual Sex in the Cineplex was full of high culture references among its punk shenanigans. Niall mocked the pretentious while giving the nod to literature. It will probably be the only record I hear in my life that refers to Dostoevsky’s ball control. They’re one of those bands that manage to come across as clever within complete simplicity.
Bradford support act St Tantrums kicked off the proceedings with a colourful set of glam-influenced punk tunes and a colourful frontman. It might have taken the steadily-growing crowd a second or two to deal with whatever internal issues arose from the presence of bleached blonde, pigtailed vocalist Sebastien Page, but the band’s bite was solid. A catchy shot of shouted group vocals in the chorus to ‘Would You Kindly’ proved a standout and ‘Gilles de Rais’ brought in a bit of early goth rock to match the high, throaty vocals. Mid-set tracks saw the band experiment with Cramp-style sounds.
The Sultans set, in line with most their of gigs, consisted mostly of material from their first, and most popular, album. Though it’s always nice to hear tracks from Teenage Drug and Good Year for Trouble it showed that despite their bravado they care about giving their fanbase what they want. Opening with ‘Back in a Tracksuit’ and into ‘Veronica’, ‘Two Pints of Rasa’, ‘Indeed You Are’, ‘Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass’ Casual Sex was very much represented, but ‘Michiko’, ‘Wake Up and Scratch Me’ and ‘Teenage Punks’ were solid additions from their second album. The sci-fi punk swirl of the latter track proved one of the brighter moments of the set and ‘Mescaline’ was a reminder of the Sultans as a straight-up rock band and a welcome inclusion from their underrated third record.
The Cork frontman’s questioning the crowd as to why they were filming when they were right there in real life confirmed the band being from another time. A time when people enjoyed the gig they were at then rather than saving it for later like the second half of a Twix.
Their biggest hit, the one which must have been heard three times as much as any other song in their discography, ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ was last before the encore. It was good. It was good the last time I saw them play it as well, but it’s not their best even though it enjoys a massively disproportionate amount of attention considering the quality of the rest of their material. This is not to take a swipe at the song, which I love, but to lament the narrow way their music has been consumed by audiences. I was a little disappointed at the absence of ‘Kick Me with Your Leather Boots’, but ‘Stupid Kid’ was a manic, too-many-Smarties masterstroke.
They’ve been back a while now and they’re still great. And Niall’s only a bloody lecturer! I’ll point out that I heard this from a “source” not from the band, who kept business and pleasure at a safe distance.