the balcony

Looking Out For You: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Showcase at Terminal 5

Do you, don’t you want me to love you?
I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you
Tell me, tell me, come on tell me the answer!
Well you may be a lover, but you ain’t no dancer…

                                 —The Beatles, “Helter Skelter”

Catfish and the Bottlemen made an entrance onto Terminal 5’s stage to The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” A bold move for a band from England trying to carve their own history as a British rock group breaking ground in the American music scene. Then again, this is a band that isn’t interested in making friends but instead announcing their arrival. Clad in all black and hair grown out from its earlier mop top, Van McCann—more than ever before—looked the part of a front man. This wasn’t a homecoming show, but a calling card. Surrounded on all sides by teens, I waited to hear the music Catfish and the Bottlemen has been perfecting since forming in their early teens.

I’ve seen Catfish and the Bottlemen perform before. Earlier this year, my best friend and I saw them perform at Mac’s Bar in East Lansing to a few hundred people. Squashed in a small bar on a cold evening in March, Catfish’s performance was raw and chaotic. Van was sick, but their onstage presence showed no lack of continuity and gusto. Drunk, I danced. I screamed. I loved.

The show at Terminal 5 opened with my personal favorite “Rango.” Catfish and the Bottlemen are great lyricists, and the proof is in “Rango.” Heartfelt and confessional. Vulnerable. Van sings:

I plan on coming back for nothing
But then again there’s you
And although this town does flaunt
All the stuff you need to feel at home
I plan on taking from it nothing,
But then again there’s you…

 Our twenties are about picking up, and leaving home. Finding new homes in people and places right (and wrong) for us. Catfish and the Bottlemen explore the temptations of home, the lure of the familiar, and the love for those we have left behind that lingers far after the initial break. The lilt to Van’s voice when sings “But then again there’s you…” might just be the most beautiful moment on any rock album to debut last year. Having recently left home for New York City, I connect with “Rango” the hardest. The desire to take “nothing” with me, and—yet—wanting to carry on my person those closest to me. I want my friends, their gleaming smiles and throaty laughs and whiskey tolerances. “Rango” continues,

And although this town does flaunt
Much thicker stories than I care to talk
Darling you’ve fought them in style
And I’ll always love you for that…

It’s hard to return to places we grew up and notice the veneers that have changed on buildings, and more pronounced—the ways the town and ourselves have morphed and transformed, and—occasionally—stagnantly fought to remain the same. “Rango” is the song I play for everyone I want to introduce to Catfish and the Bottlemen. It was nice to hear them introduce themselves to the crowd with it, to have them understand what I hear every time I turn the song up on my iPod. “Rango” is a proper introduction to these Englishmen.

Yes I know
That I’ll never work out exactly how you’re thinking
But let me know when I’m needed home…

The show is swift. Catfish and the Bottlemen don’t spend much time setting up songs, telling anecdotes. The music introduces itself. Steals your attention away from your phone, from the bodies pressed against your back, from the arms raised in the air in silent syncopation. “Pacifier” segued into “Sidewinder.” It was hard to keep my eyes off Van. In March, he’d been soft and sullen. He appeared smaller in a knit sweater. At Terminal 5, hair falling in front of his eyes and shirt unbuttoned, he looked like a proper rockstar. Shoving his fingers into his hair, he seemed to be acquiring the nuances of Harry Styles’ enigmatic persona (I say this mostly because there is nothing Van would hate more than a comparison to One Direction’s heartthrob, a band he has continually denounced in interviews when not tweeting Louis Tomlinson hate). He was lithe on stage, his guitar work both elegant and anarchic. His fingers fast moving, his mouth shoved against the mic as drops of sweat rolled down his hollow cheeks. His eyes were hooded, lowered. Seducing the crowd to come a little closer with “Business.”

I wanna make it my business
I wanna tolerate drunk you, honey
I wanna make you my problem…

The highlight of a Catfish and the Bottlemen concert, in my opinion, is always “Hourglass.” One of the rare moments Van paused to introduce. He dedicated the song that night to Ewan McGregor’s daughter who was in attendance (McGregor is rather famously in the music video—to the point Van noted that people think Catfish really did steal the song from him). “Hourglass” is bittersweet and indulgent. It demands you lean in, sing softly.

And I’m so impatient when you’re not mine
I just want to catch up on all the lost times
And I’ll say I’m sorry if I sound sordid
Cause all I really ever want is you…

My predisposition to love songs about yearning is high. I instantly fell for “Hourglass” the first time I ever listened to The Balcony. You can’t ignore these lyrics:

Offer my hand and I’ll take your name
Share my shower, kiss my frame
Cause I wanna carry all your children
And I wanna call them stupid shit…

All I want is what I can’t have. “All I really ever want is you.” Concise, and to the point. This is my mission statement. The part of me I try to hide behind Sephora brand lip stain and an American Apparel acquired scowl. I’m weak in the face of people I want. I want all of them, their attention and their focus. I want to devour them. I want gentle touches and soft murmurs. I want the fragility of loving someone, and them returning the feelings.

Catfish closes every show they’ve done with “Tyrants,” a song that Van wrote at age 14. Now in their early twenties, the song has earned and gained weight. We’re all trying to “get a grip” of Catfish of Bottlemen as they “make a racket.”

And I did my best to get my hands under your jacket…