Filthy Friends are a super tight, slick, tour de force group featuring some of the most iconic bands in music history. And here they are playing in a barn in the small town of Oxted that was converted into a theatre in the 1930s. In fact, it’s the first gig of its type at this venue which is noted for its heathy amateur dramatics scene and for junior musical productions such as the forthcoming 42ndStreet.
Peter Buck from REM and Corin Tucker, co-founder of the female group Sleater-Kinney, the original driving force behind the band are joined by producer and guitarist extraordinaire Kurt Bloch, a superbly rhythmic and inventive bass player Scott McCaughey from The Minus 5, and everyone’s “go to” drummer at the moment, Linda Pitmon.
The band have serious issues to draw our attention to and the new album Emerald Valley explores “Green” values covering everything from worker exploitation, invasion of historic lands and corporate greed to Presidential ineptness and industrial waste.
Their first ever UK tour kicks off with a set centred around the new LP and, as the five take the stage, the crowd really surprise me not with gentle applause but with a great roar and a cheer that does not let up throughout the night.
The jangling bluesy November Man opens the proceedings with some great slide guitar playing from Bloch. We’re thinking beyond 100 days here with the lyrics “We don’t have no words, we don’t have no songs, we don’t have no music, we don’t have no love for November Man”. I wonder who that’s about?
It’s back to the first album, Invitation, for The Arrival and Despieta where Corin Tucker takes on a Patti Smith persona, but with her voice more poetic and emotive. One of the striking things about her live is that she sounds so much more versatile than on record.
Filthy Friends are mainly from Portland and one of the highlight songs of the night, The Elliott, is about forest destruction in Oregon. Its shouting chorus of “Enough, enough” is thrown right back at the band from everyone in the “barn”.
The new album’s title track, Emerald Valley, comes midway in the set and takes in a sonic guitar solo from Bloch whilst Buck keeps the riff going throughout. But what’s amazing about these musicians is how expertly they’re in control of their art; the rhythm section of Pitmon and McCaughey are just superb.
The energy that the band play with is also impressive. They never stop moving or jumping around the stage, particularly McCaughey who suffered a stroke in 2017 but plays and moves like no tomorrow. Of course we should expect Scott to be good because he was also the auxiliary fifth member of REM and appeared on the band’s last five albums.
Whilst most of the songs tonight are from the Emerald Valley record, it is the brilliant version of Windmill that steals the night. The band are able to show everything they have and punk-angst vocals of Corin Tucker, to the sublime harmonies from Bloch and McCaughey, a driving relentless beat from Pitmon, and riffs never-ending from Peter Buck. The crowd respond with one of the biggest cheers of the night.
The mournful ballad Hey Lacey, with Tucker again able to deliver another diverse vocal performance, and the 1970s Blondie-esque rocker Last Chance Country close a brilliant show. It remains to be seen how long this band will be together as Peter Buck’s music projects since leavening REM are mostly short-lived. So, with that in mind, make sure you’re one of the people who can say: “I have (seen) Filthy Friends”.
Another triumph for the Oxted Sessions who produced the show. The tour poster for the band reels off glamourous destinations – Berlin, Paris, London, Barcelona… and Oxted – makes it totally believable that, with the right promotion, bands can fill smaller venues in “minority markets”.
Photography and Live Review by Simon Jay Price at the Barn Theatre, Oxted for Filthy Friends on 30th May 2019.