Chicago – Tightly packed fans waited anxiously for UK band Catfish and the Bottlemen to take the stage at Schubas Tuesday night. Just a few hours earlier, the line for entry to the sold-out show twisted around the corner onto Belmont Avenue. Those who were lucky enough to snatch a ticket were now inside the warm walls of the music hall. While some seemed carefree and relaxed, singing and dancing along to a little Earth Wind & Fire, others grew impatient and wondered out loud, “What’s taking so long? When are they going on?”
The Welshmen were running a bit behind. However, soon enough the foursome hit the stage, and once Van McCann said hello, it all made sense. His hoarse voice gave it away. One song in, the sweet and humble frontman apologized for being a bit under the weather and offered to reimburse anyone for the price of their ticket if they felt let down by his performance, but honestly, his performance was still great. If that was McCann at say 80 percent, 100 percent must be exceptional! Really though, the entire band was great. These young Brits play some brilliant rock ‘n’ roll!
The guys started the night out with “Rango.” Girls screamed like it was the second coming of the British Invasion. Despite being sick, McCann jumped around stage, fiercely strumming his guitar. His shaggy hair grew wet with sweat. Guitarist Johnny Bond and bassist Benji Blakeway stood off to each side of McCann, bathed in red lights. Drummer Bob Hall’s fluffy hair shot in every direction as he kept the beat. Later in the night, McCann would lovingly refer to him as “Stage Show Bob.”
Catfish and the Bottlemen played every song off their debut album The Balcony (Communion Records/Island Records). The room went wild for “Kathleen” and “Pacifier.” Before “Homesick,” McCann had girls swooning as he told them the story of his “miracle” IVF birth. He held onto the necklace his father had given to his mother when he was born. After two unsuccessful tries they were told they’d never have a child, but the third time was a charm. McCann said his “mum” gave it to him and one day he’ll give it to his wife and then their child. Oh, the looks on ladies’ faces! If the rock didn’t win them over, McCann’s charisma sure did!
Later in the night, Van again apologized for being sick. He offered to buy everyone a round of drinks to make up for it! Then his tour manager came on stage to whisper a little something in his ear. Van looked shocked and said, “Oh, this is an 18+ show?” Kids up front screamed yeahs, to which Van said, “So you’re all not old enough! Shit! Shit, shit, shit!”
As the set grew closer to the end, McCann stood alone on stage with his guitar. He asked that fans help him sing “Hourglass” since his voice was starting to go. Those who knew the words obliged, making for a sweet little sing-along. Not too long ago, in a Best New Bands interview, McCann said “Homesick” was partially inspired by the Ewan McGregor film Big Fish. McCann is a huge fan of McGregor. Photos of McGregor’s face were glued to the band’s amps. Another photo of McCann’s “hero” was also spotted hanging in the band tour bus.
Of course per tradition, Catfish and the Bottlemen ended their set with “Tyrants.” The guys thrashed around the stage. Fans clapped along to the beat. McCann sang, “She said nothing’s alright, believe me / I won’t feel the same in the morning / She said nothing’s alright, we’re leaving.” Before leaving, McCann held his guitar up above his head and hung it on the hook of the projection screen, causing it to drop down. He laughed and ran off stage. Their tour manager re-emerged and announced that for those old enough to drink there was an open tab at the bar under “Catfish.” McCann kept his word… even though he didn’t disappoint.
Catfish and the Bottlemen are currently on a North American tour through mid-March and then head to the U.K. for plenty more. Click HERE for dates. The Balcony is available for purchase on iTunes.
Photos of Catfish and the Bottlemen by Sarah Hess.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.