Gig Review: SPRINTS at The Bodega

Words: Phil Taylor
Photos: Nigel King
Sunday 21 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Hitting Nottingham for the penultimate date of their sold-out UK tour, SPRINTS had lots to celebrate. Their debut album, Letter to Self, has received widespread critical acclaim; their tour has sold out; and here they are, full of energy, attitude in spades, and preparing to bring joy to The Bodega...

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But first Venus Grrrls: the goth-grunge, post-punk, alternative five-piece out of Leeds and Newcastle. The live room at The Bodega was nicely filled when they took to the stage – and anyone who decided to skip the support really did miss a trick this time. I’m quite sure that this band, like the headliners, aren’t going to be playing intimate venues like this for much longer (although they are returning to Nottingham on 11 September as part of their own headline tour).

Grace Kelly is the band’s lead and she exudes cool confidence mixed with fiery resolve, pushing out high-range and often surprisingly operatic vocals. There’s a great chemistry on stage between Grace and her four band-mates, each one contributing their parts to the whole, giving relaxed but focused vibes. Their sound is guitar-heavy, with Grace contributing solid riffs and Eliza Lee on lead guitar adding a further solid layer of sound. Hannah Barraclough’s bass was reassuringly solid and engaged, and Gabby Cooke’s drums were precise and always intense, while the addition of synths (courtesy of Grace Stubbings) brought another dimension, both deepening and elevating the overall sound.

The performance felt more like a shortened headline act than a support set. Somehow 30-minutes and seven songs became epic, thanks to the passion and delight Venus Grrrls poured into their music, and the range of great songs that the band can draw on. That was true from the energetic opening number Divine, through the brooding Hex, embellished with knowing glares and hand gestures, to Lidocaine and Sudocream Queen (which the band blazed through, making it intense and hard-edged) as well as the rest of their performance.

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Grace K even jumped off stage and immersed herself into the crowd at one point – that’s quite the power move, particularly in a support set. Rightly so: this band not only have the confidence to grab their time and own it fully, but the skill and drive to make it work.

I really couldn’t think of a better support for SPRINTS, who took to the stage bang on time in front of a now packed room. Their song Ticking is a fabulous album-opener, and I was so pleased they chose it to open the live set, too. The oh-so-measured build up brought ripples of crackling anticipation to the space. We all knew where it was leading, but even so when the riffs finally dropped, they hit bigger than I think we expected - beer went flying as the first mosh pit formed. The excitement, and the mosh pit, spread further during Heavy and then into I’m in a Band (one of only a few songs from the band’s back catalogue – most of the set focused on their debut album, Letter to Self).

Karla Chubb is a brilliant front-person, so casual and yet hyper-engaged. Her interludes were witty, wry and direct: she knew exactly how to hype up the Bodega crowd, imploring more energy, and casually mentioning how everyone in Bristol “brought it” the night before. It worked. Adore Adore Adore absolutely went off; we all hung onto – and sang along with – every word of Cathedral (shout out to Sam McCann for creating possibly the dirtiest bass sound ever on that one); and it’s safe to say the room was well warmed up by the time we were through the rapid-fire Delia Smith and reached Shaking Their Hands. The live version of this was raw and crunchy, with big unrestrained vocals.

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I’ve come to realise that much of what makes a great live performance is when the band themselves are having a great time. There was no doubt SPRINTS were doing just that, sharing the joy with each other as well as their audience. It was also great to see the band members shouting each other out, too: Sam did just that after Karla had outdone herself on Shadow of a Doubt.

Can’t Get Enough of It and Up and Comer and Letter to Self ignited the audience even more, with the general chaos spreading almost entirely through the room. Karla left the stage briefly after that, while the band ad libbed, before they launched into the final few songs.

There was no encore as such (Karla labelling them “pretentious”) — the music just ebbed and flowed (mostly flowed) through to its natural conclusion. The penultimate Literary Mind was a standout here, with its delicious builds and interplay of fiery guitar from Colm O’Reilly, Karla’s fierce vocals, and Sam’s more mellow tones, all underpinned by stunning drums from Jack Callan. During that time, Karla jumped down to join the general melee, as well as climbing high on a speaker stack to bring still more hype. There was also a great moment when Grace from Venus Grrrls was pulled back on stage to celebrate her birthday by singing a chaotic duet with Karla: a cover of the manically surreal Deceptacon by Le Tigre).

It’s safe to say that we were all left in awe by the time the music ended and the lights came up. SPRINTS had delivered a set packed with energy, showing real presence and togetherness, at times beating us into welcome submission, but always making time to share all their joy with us. A superb and unforgettable show.

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