Benefits, Live at Middlesbrough Town Hall 16/12/23

A bus ride over to what could be easily described as the desolate windy city (always over looked for city status Middlesbrough), we make our way through the strangely quiet streets, think the revellers here prefer to do it indoors on a cold winters night in the No
rth East, and to the Town Hall we arrived, it seems reasonably busy, and as the security check for contraband and various other unwanted items that would never be hidden within my bag I spy a few familiar faces making their way to the bar, that’s always a good sign that this is a gig that has drawn, people not just from Teesside, but from all over the region and beyond. 
After checking out the new revamped layout of the Crypt that I’ve seen many a band play in the past, from the likes of The Damned, Buzzcocks and The UK Subs, its plain to see the dark foreboding as gone and a new fresh paint job mixed with the in keeping history of the place has dragged it into the here and now, here’s hoping the sound gets an over haul too, had many a burst eardrum from previous times here.  
First up and pretty damned on time are Onlooker, a Teesside based Garage Rock with Punk attitude band that have members from around the North East, the energy that immediately ensues is full on and real, this is a band that obviously don’t know what paced and steady means, their mantra is obviously to hit the audience with a salvo of pure Rock n Roll mixed with infectious beats that never let your feet stand still, and then pull them along for the ride until they decide they’re finished.  With a vocal that shouts/sings of everything from piss poor state of the world, to the social divisions that dog our society, through to the simple things in life like having a Radgey (not sure if this is just a northern word or not), the soundscape that surrounds all this is simply head implodingly good and the crowd dancing and cheering every single song was testament to this, they explode from the stage like a grenade and then disappear off into the sidelines to a rapturous applause.
After a little time to cool down and take on refreshments, the next act on is something totally different and not someone I have to admit I’d seen or heard of before, but then putting Maria Uzor an experimental electro dub artist on in the middle is either a moment of madness or a stroke of genius (I prefer the latter).  Its hard to say if the audience were of the same mind as myself, had they heard her before or not?, because they simply took what she gave in the moment to their hearts, a sound that reverberated through your whole body from your feet up, with the bass level being like a foot massage of the 5 star order.  Songs that somehow had you singing along, even though you might not have known the words fully, you totally got the vibe, the mood was dark yet uplifting and the dance moves and shapes from the stage had you enthralled from start to finish. I read the word Afronaut when looking into this artist later on, and what better way to describe how the sound and braveness of her set came across on the night.
Yet again we are I need of some pick me up and cool me down liquids then its on the the main event. This gig is the culmination of a year for Benefits that has seen them pick up album of the year for Nails in various well established quarters, set off on a tour of Europe that by all accounts has had a lasting effect on so many people, yes they are a marmite band, and divisive, which is what Punk is, and should be all about.
The room darkens and the vibe this time is so much edgier and powerful feeling, red light and industrial electronic tones fill the room and Kingsley Hall takes to the stage with the guile of a man looking to catch his pray in the in the web of words he spits at you, Marlboro Hundreds is his first and aptly it shouts of not being takin in by hate speech and the fascist call, don’t succumb to that web of lies all around you “reject hate, reject hate”  reverberates around the room and gives us all much to think on.
If you ever have the pleasure, or in some peoples cases the misfortune to go to a Benefits gig, then as I would hope to imagine, your there because you want to be made aware or have a need to see things from another perspective, but most of all, if you are there, then at least you given the opportunity to make that choice, or not!.  Because as the song ‘Shit Britain’ erupts around us, it very clear that this is not a place for the faint of heart or the undecided, its with anger and sadness this song even exits I guess, the soundscape is a little less industrial for this one, but you feel that being from Teesside as most are in the room, this is so much more from the soul of a down trodden town.  As gigs go, you’re never going to get is a melody or a riff or even a bass line from Benefits, but you do get are drums that strike at your brain cells coupled with anarchic synth drones and the brutality is unrelenting sonic growls, then you have a lead singer who controls his athletic look to throw out some gymnastic/balletic moves on stage that give a sense of him giving every inch and sinew of his being into what he’s saying, doing.  We are now with out doubt an audience that’s enveloped in the moment, songs like Council Rust, Empire, and Traitors reverberate and crash against the walls around us.  I would have to say that having seen this band several times, that this was without doubt the best in terms of sound and atmosphere I’ve ever seen from them.
To finish the night we are then also treated to a rendition of ‘The Chemical Workers Song written by Ron Angel and sung by long time friend of the band, Ben and one of their more rhythmic Sleaford Mods sounding numbers ‘Taking Us Back’ a very fitting early number, for a homecoming belter of a night.
Mark Cartwright : Words and Photos

Philip Goddard

Back to top