Camden’s Underworld is a great venue. Though, what makes it great isn’t always clear; It’s in the basement of a pub, everyone seems to be wearing acid grey t-shirts, you’ll pay £5.40 for a pint of what tastes like badly seasoned sea water, and yet, somehow, it’s exactly the kind of grimey, unpretentious, sticky floored venue that you want to see rock shows in.
At 500 capacity, it’s the perfect size to see bands in an intimate setting, and the lack of barrier reduces the us-and-them feel often felt at shows between audience and artist, as well as providing an all too tempting opportunity for plenty of stage-diving, crowd-surfing chaos. More venues like Underworld, please. Tonight it plays host to pop-punk veterans The Ataris, who are touring their classic 2003 album, ‘So Long, Astoria’.
Opening are Templeton Pek , whose career spans close to a decade, yet with every release, they seem to land just on the periphery of the mainstream – possibly down to some very hit-and-miss material. They open their set with two upbeat pop punk-y numbers which are pretty solid, but then descend into by-the-book arena rock which never seems to gain ground.
They’re clearly adept musicians – there’s a refreshing no-bullshit attitude from vocalist Neal Mitchell, who skips any pretension, and the brisk, punk-infused drum rhythms inject a nice energy into the set – but all too often, the songs themselves feel a bit too tired to get excited about. If all of their tracks were as strong as the emo tinged number ‘One More Enemy’, it might drive them forward, but for now, it feels like this band are trying to cling on a little too hard to 2006.
Germany’s Slimboy  are another band whose career has been a long one, but their sound appears to have moved with the times – or perhaps, just hasn’t aged as badly. Kooky and fun, the trio’s poppy, Blink-182-ish jams go down a treat as a warm-up for the headline act. Bassist Joel Bader has a strong, distinct rock voice, and Tristan Meier‘s delicate, dexterous fretwork doesn’t go unnoticed either.
The most welcome aspect of the entire set though is the band themselves, who are very likeable characters, obviously enthusiastic about their music, and genuinely grateful for the opportunity to be performing it. The tracks themselves are cheery, enjoyable slabs of pop-punk – slightly cheesy sometimes, and nothing groundbreaking, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless.
The Ataris  take to the stage to rapturous applause. Much to the crowd’s joy, they open with the anthemic ‘In This Diary’, one of the best known tracks from fan favourite album ‘So Long, Astoria’, which they intend to play in full tonight to celebrate its 15th anniversary. This causes a mass sing-a-long, which you’d expect from such a well known track, but surprisingly, it doesn’t let up. The crowd tonight seems to consist almost entirely of ardent fans, determined to sing every word back at frontman Kris Roe with as much passion as he does.
The tempo slows down early with the combination of ‘The Hero Dies In This One’, a heartfelt tribute to Roe‘s father, and emo classic, ‘The Saddest Song’. The pace picks up again though with the raucous ‘Summer ’79’, and cries of “Let’s create anthems of our own tonight” erupt around the room. This comes just before the band’s legendary cover of Don Henley‘s ‘The Boys Of Summer’ causes one of the biggest cheers of the night, as crowd surfers descend upon the stage from all angles.
The entire set does feel a bit like The Kris Roe Show – whilst the rest of the band all turn in a good performance, none attempt to interact with the crowd much – so it’s unsurprising when Roe and his left handed guitar emerge alone for the encore to play a solo medley of songs. Seen earlier on in the evening cheerfully greeting fans at the merch desk, he’s clearly still enamoured by what he does, and comes across genuine and affable, regardless of what that notorious show in 2012 (watch here) may have done to his reputation.
Fans seem thrilled by his willingness to perform older cuts, and he stumbles through a rendition of ‘Broken Promise Ring’ from 1999’s ‘Blue Skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits’; “It’s been so long since I played this!” he laughs, trying to remember the chords.
A floor wide circle pit opens up as the opening bars from the eponymous title-track from ‘So Long, Astoria’ ring out. As the song draws to a close, it feels like every lungs in the room are shouting THOSE lines from the final verse, and Roe dives into the crowd, taking the mic stand with him and not emerging for some minutes. Whether or not The Ataris are still relevant in their scene is still up for debate, but if nothing else, they’ve proven they can deliver a chaotic show of sweat soaked nostalgia, and on some nights, that’s all anyone really asks for.
Written by Lottie Cook (@pixelottie)