The Portland Arms is North Cambridge's stalwart gig venue. It's a perfectly acceptable public house. I can't express any rational criticism of the beer, the decor, or the staff. However, The Portland makes me uneasy –maybe because we're similar.
We’ve both spent long enough in Chesterton to see it undergo many changes. We’ve both been exposed to a certain amount of beer and revelry. We’re both, to be honest, a little past our prime. I do not care to see myself mirrored by a pub.
On the plus side, The Portland has Cambridge’s best hallway, with doors leading to the garden, the gig room, a bar, and the toilets. This bustling intersection is a great place to meet people.
But I was not there to meet people. I was there for the music. A last-minute addition had been made to the bill. Five young men leapt wildly around the music-room, backing the audience against the wall, and smashing music out of their instruments like they despised them. Their vocalist hurled out his lyrics in that deep, growling style favoured by many heavy metal bands. I didn’t understand what he was singing, but I sensed that he was angry about something. The score of onlookers seemed to empathise. I asked several people what this band was called –none knew. Maybe their name is a growl, not a word. I think they want to be the world’s angriest, bounciest, deepest-growling, loudest band. I wish them luck.
Next to take the stage was Unit 9. After two years of regular gigs, they usually draw a good crowd. About fifty watched appreciatively as they performed their set. Unit 9 play unadulterated metal. No additives, no preservatives, 100% metal. They too, gave the impression they were vexed. The cause of their upset seemed more mature: the woes of a tortured soul, not the toys being slung out of the pram. Unit 9’s vocalist is aggressively powerful. Its guitarists and rhythm section are well rehearsed and talented. They do what they do well.
Although The Heights had received top-billing, they were the penultimate act of the night. Strangely, they seemed to draw a few less listeners than Unit 9. That was maybe for the best, as The Heights also liked to get in amongst their audience. The bassist in particular, was not content to confine himself to stage. He seemed to have a particular affinity for, or grudge against, one audience member. He repeatedly leapt into the crowd, hurling himself and his bass against his target, who seemed to enjoy it. There was just as little contentment to be found in their music, which had an angst-ridden quality to it, perhaps grunge-inspired, but was loud and furious beyond my ability to appreciate it. Their set made me feel like I’d witnessed a party to which I hadn’t been invited.
Feed the Rhino closed the night to a packed room. Their sound is also loud, heavy-on-the-guitar, incensed, unapologetic metal, with all dials turned up to eleven in homage to Spinal Tap. Their vocalist incited the crowd to indulge in “carnage,” which my dictionary defines as “the killing of a large number of people.” I don’t think that’s what he meant. Instead, the crowd indulged in a prolonged session of slam-dancing, stage-diving, crowd-surfing, and non-specific hurling about of the self. Beer and blood were both spilt. No-one was seriously hurt, but the loss of the beer meant someone, finally, had just cause to be angry. I’d like to see the energetic and talented Feed The Rhino again, but somewhere with a little more room to stand.
We’re so alike, The Portland and I. We ended our evening battered, bruised, rocked-out, and covered in spilt beer. The ringing in my ears was so loud that other people could hear it.
*The Heights, plus support, played at the Portland Arms on 26th September 2011