The hardest working band in alt rock leave nothing on the table in Glasgow
Northern Irish hard rockers Therapy? have weathered all kinds of dramas across their lengthy career. Departing drummers, self-destructive behaviour, even an early, near-ruinous dalliance with Top 40 success when 1994’s Troublegum threatened to turn them into the indie darlings they very much weren’t.
What they were, and are, is one of the best live bands around, with one of the most underrated songwriters in the business in the form of singer/guitarist Andy Cairns. How else do you explain 2023’s Hard Cold Fire, their 16th studio album, sounding as fresh as most debuts?
Tonight’s opener ‘They Shoot The Terrible Master’ – named after a quote from American novelist David Foster Wallace – is an apt summary of their appeal. A fierce rocker with a fiendishly catchy refrain, a wicked sense of humour and a sprinkling of existential anguish, it’s over in three thrilling minutes.
‘Nausea’ from 1992 follows, with Cairns leading an early audience singalong, despite a chorus that pleads, “I don’t want to feel anymore”. The purists won’t want to hear it, but Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ sounds more like a Therapy? song these days. And there’s a new optimism creeping in among the nihilism.
Before ‘Unbeliever’, Cairns thanks the capacity crowd for making him feel less alone – a characteristically big-hearted admission. He also pays tribute to the recently deceased Shane MacGowan, and checks in on a potentially injured fan.
Throughout, Michael McKeegan strides the stage beaming, his bass-playing both nimble and immense. Cairn’s anguished vocals and guitar are at the centre of it all, but he still finds space to shred when the songs allow. Neil Cooper’s drums, meanwhile, sound like a gunfight in a firework factory.
‘Turn’ and ‘Stories’ get the crowd pogoing, while new singles ‘Joy’ and ‘Woe’ sound just as good. In fact, Hard Cold Fire has done so well it’s put them back in the charts after 28 years, Cairns tells us with pride.
Written by Hüsker Dü, but sounding – you guessed it – like a Therapy? song, ‘Diane’ is an ugly-beautiful tale of small-town murder and it makes the most unlikely crowd singalong of the evening. Set closer is the anxious ‘Teethgrinder’, which sees Cairns and McKeegan careering around the tiny stage.
Clearly having a great time, the band rip through six songs in a 20-minute encore, including ‘Bloody Blue’, ‘Opal Mantra’ and the gloriously X-rated ‘Potato Junkie’ – before pausing for a drum solo to celebrate the two decades since Cooper joined.
Never ones to short-change fans, they also offer up exuberant blasts of Killing Joke, Black Sabbath and The Beatles. The closing trio of ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Screamager’ and ‘Nowhere’ remind everyone why they fell so hard in the first place. Tonight, they sound like survivor’s songs from a band who’ve known joy and woe, and decided to choose the former. Long may they continue.