STRETCH ARMSTRONG +With Honor. Furnace, Swindon. 13.01.06

There’s a big metal barrier at the front of the stage inside the Furnace. Seriously, bands have to stand on their amps to see over it. The front rows of the crowd can reach the top and hang from it but otherwise they spend every show peering through the bars.

Now, Stretch Arm Strong, 15 years into their career, have probably played weirder stages, but not many.

The fact that the band has been doing this so long means a few things. First off, they know how to perform. Theirs is a melodic hardcore punk mix played breakneck by a band famed for being able to turn any crowd their way. Other bands hate playing after them. Secondly, they have the pride and determination that arrives with coming to terms with what a bitch the music industry can be. Despite their powerful sound they’ve never tasted the same success that bands ripping them off have enjoyed.

Even with all that on their side, tonight there’s an air of resentment, not bitterness but weariness, in some of the steps they make. Sure, as they bound onstage the energy levels are, as always, ridiculously high and the band certainly throw themselves around but they soon seem disappointed at the crowd reaction. Frontman Chris McLane is heart and soul embodied, clapping hard, leaping around and climbing speaker stacks to reach his people but apart from a dedicated few down the front and some random mosh pit violence everybody is mid-pint, mid-conversation or simply staring into space. Now that’s gotta hurt.

Before all that With Honor play their taut, driving anthems like their lives depend on it, and they probably do. Cuts from their new Victory Records album ‘This Is Our Revenge’ are amazing and even when the sound system threatens to swallow everything, the songs are played with the sort of emphatic dedication that will see them last as long as the headliners.

In the end, those headliners have simply been going too long to let some of Swindon’s lack of participation knock them all the way down and they shift into an extra gear from nowhere. Ending with a brilliant ‘For The Record’ and a version of ‘Melt With You’ that’s so good even those propping up the bar start to pay attention, they finally annihilate the cobwebs and reveal why they have such a Lazarus-like staying power.

Both of these bands make life-affirming positive anthems, songs you wish you knew the words too. It’s just a shame more people don’t. There may have been a cage on stage but most blocks tonight were, eventually, removed.

Also appears at New-Noise