The 100 Club is nestled in between Oxford Street’s over-sized stores like a small passage into the past. It has a small sign and a small door and a small staircase leads down to an underground space, which has delivered live music since 1942. The Rolling Stones used to play there, and so did many other bands. It’s a place with history and the back wall is filled with pictures of famous bands who once played there. When the DJ played Poison I glanced over a picture of Alice Cooper.
We were waiting for Smith Westerns; a four piece rock band from Ohio that have gone from retro punk rock romantics to something more polished, melodic and wistful, especially on their third and most recent album; this year’s Soft Will. When they enter the wide stage, which bizarrely is partly obscured by a giant concrete pillar, meaning I only catch glimpses of the band’s arguably most talented musician: the lead guitarist. They look incredibly young. When the singer at one point refers to an older song as something the band wrote “when we were just boys”, it’s difficult to avoid thinking they still are. Nevertheless, they’ve created some seriously impressive tunes, such as the brilliant Soft Will opener “3am Spiritual”, and the singles “Varsity” and “Weekend”, the latter one from their 2011 album Dye It Blond.
Smith Westerns do have a problem though; as charming and cool as their lead singer is when he throws his long hair all over the place, his voice often misses the right notes. Perhaps it’s having just arrived in Europe, but it feels like a real issue, especially when the rest of the band sound so great, even the pretentious looking base player who keeps gazing into some kind of artful distance.
The sold out crowd gives a definite Tuesday impression, never really livening up, despite some hand clapping from the people in the front. When they’ve played all their best songs they leave the stage without coming back for an encore.
As we make our way up the stairs and out on Oxford Street, where the neighboring Boots store is throwing up bright lights on passers-by, we agree that it was worth the £10 cover charge. But when I pass a male crooner in one of the Oxford Circus Tube station corridors I can’t help wondering what a really strong singer cold do with these songs.