While tonight saw clearly a more laidback performance by Alex Rice & co., their technical ability alongside the crowd led it to be a euphoric night out.
Following the release of their second Top 3 album, Gulp! earlier this year, Cambridge’s finest band Sports Team returned to Southampton’s The Loft once more for yet another raucous high-adrenaline, banger-filled set.
But first, tonight’s show was preceded by an opening set from Sydenham’s Fat Dog. With no music currently featured on streaming services, and brief research showing that their lineup has changed quite rapidly over the last few years, I was unsure what to expect – and I don’t think I could have ever imagined what I did see. Fat Dog are a high-octane, synth-filled post-punk-ish band essentially: think IDLES mixed with the recent electro-punk sounds of Gilla Band, paired with two brass musicians for good measure. Frontman Joe had the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout, constantly joining in the surprisingly mosh-heavy set for a supporting band. Although the initial manic novelty of the early songs did eventually wear off – there are only so many sounds you can make by mixing heavy guitars and brass – it was certainly a more-than-enjoyable 30-minute set.
It was about a 40-minute wait before Sports Team took to the stage, and it was more than clear that tonight’s show was sold out – it was almost unbearably warm in there at times. Tonight’s show was originally set to be held at the O2 Guildhall, although clearly-dismal ticket sales led the gig to be moved from that 1,700-capacity
venue to one that holds just 300, and one which Sports Team last played 3 years ago. Given that the band have seemingly hit vast new heights since, with a #2 album and a Mercury Prize nomination in their pockets, you’ve got to feel for them really – particularly as several other shows on their current UK tour suffered the same fate.
Perhaps this had some impact on frontman Alex Rice, who did not seem to be up to his usual performing standard. Renowned for his high-octane stage antics, tonight saw a more subdued Rice – although gradually his dance moves became grander and more frantic as the night went on. In this absence, from as soon as the band opened with Here It Comes Again, it was clear that the crowd would be the driving force behind tonight’s energy. The crowd moshed and jumped at every opportunity possible, and it is difficult to criticise Sports Team for their performance tonight – they are clearly a tight live band – with guitarist/backing vocalist Rob Knaggs providing much of the stage energy. Keyboardist Ben Mack’s live shtick for several years now has been to just stand glumly while playing, an act that while funny at first, it really does have a subconscious impact on you. Moshing around to the monster choruses of M5 and The Game become tricky when a band member is doing their very best to be an absolute joy-killer.
The setlist, however, simply cannot be faulted. The band rock their way through the best of both their acclaimed 2020 debut album Deep Down Happy alongside Gulp!, as well a couple of tracks from their early EPs. Bar a couple of recent album tracks, every single song across the 18-song setlist goes down a treat, with particular highlights being the brass-heavy Dig!, Knaggs taking on surprisingly strong lead vocal duties on Lander and the early fan-favourite Kutcher.
It’s a huge shame that the band came nowhere near to hitting the heights of Southampton’s O2 Guildhall – I do sometimes wonder if they will manage to break out of the ‘cult’ label that is often attributed to their fanbase – but their performance, while subdued, showed that they clearly have the songs, talent, and loyal fanbase to perhaps make it there someday.
Sports Team are currently embarking on their ‘Tour the UK’ across the country, tickets can be purchased here.