It's twenty past ten and there's still no evidence of tonight's headline band. And there's meant to be an eleven o'clock curfew. Should we be getting concerned?
There have been a couple of local supports, decent enough but nothing mind-blowing: Syd Bozko's cited influence list ("Roses, Oasis, Led Zeppelin, The Who..." - you can guess the rest and wake me up when you've finished) actually does them a disservice - certainly the couple of songs we catch after a rather late arrival have got that trebly Sunshine Underground kind of thing going on: strong tunes, beats and a bit of swagger. Loaded Message - whose singer has a guitar shaped like a fish with teeth (not that this is particularly relevant to the music, but you don't see that every day do you?) - are cut from similar cloth, albeit a harder, dirtier variant thereof and lyrically splattered with a rather enjoyable kind of bitterness and cynicism. However at least three of their songs sound like Queens Of the Stone Age - or more specifically like "No One Knows" - so it's a tad unfortunate that this very song comes on over the PA shortly after they finish.
We are, of course, not in the least bit concerned at the empty stage. That elusive headliner, you see, is Flats. And their last appearance in this venue was a real breath of fresh air in the midst of the In The City chaos - well, if you can call a band who quite seriously cite anarcho-punk controversialists Rudimentary Peni as an influence a breath of fresh air. They played for thirteen minutes and it was an astonishing, invigorating thirteen minutes comprising about ten songs, and a good three minutes longer than they were reputed to play around that time. They could do the whole thing twice between now and eleven. Half ten and - ah! there they are. A scrawny kid in a Crass T-shirt and Tron cap pops open a can of strong lager, grabs the mic and hollers (largely incomprehesibly) over a backdrop that has more in common with (Britain's greatest American-style hardcore band of the late eighties and early nineties) Fudge Tunnel than it does Crass and their ilk, and at about three minutes it's a veritable epic by their standards - this is not for the faint-hearted.
The crowd has reduced by half from that watching the local supports, and the energy onstage isn't exactly reflected in the rather underpopulated (and slightly too well-lit) room in front of them, which does raise an interetsing question: why are we here? Not in the existential sense, I mean why are we watching this uncompromising hardcore punk band in the pleasant surroundings of Ruby Lounge when they would probably make more sense in the dark and sticky Gulliver's or Retro basement? What on earth were they doing sharing an NME Tour bill with indie bands when they'd be an instant hit on a more underground punk-oriented line-up? Well it's no secret that that scrawny kid in the Crass shirt is the offspring of Alan McGee, but if he'd really wanted to capitalise on that then I wouldn't have thought that steeping himself in the more unfashionable and unsung end of the punk scene that got written out of the glossy history books was the way to go about it. He's a good looking lad and could easily have formed a hipster indie band. Maybe they just genuinely want to bring this music - and by association those influences - out to a wider audience, and I guess playing to 20-ish people is the price they will pay for that.
Good job this doesn't seem to faze them one bit, then. They crack on with burst after burst of unfettered musical assault which is at times a joy to watch. The bassist eschews conventional basslines for full-on Lemmy-style barre chords which sound ferocious, and they're not afraid to embrace a little pop sensibility now and again too: new single "Never Again", which does actually have a tune you could hum (albeit a very fast and aggressive one) is excellent. Some of the longer songs which pad out the set to the full half hour - probably the minimum you can get away with when you're charging people to see a headline show as opposed to blowing a hole through a showcase bill - are less so. And you have to wonder where they go from here. That In the City set will remain one of the most exciting thirteen minutes of live music Ruby Lounge has ever seen, but tonight overall Flats fall a little, well, flat.