Tonight, at UEA will be Fat Dog’s eighth gig opening for Sports Team’s ‘Friendship’ tour, and, needless to say, no one’s gotten much sleep in recent history. C’est la vie; rock n’ roll.
Words: Ingrid Marie Jensen | Artwork: Dante Traynor
“If the greatest mania of all is passion: and if I am a natural slave to passion: and if the balance between my brain and my soul and my body is as wild and delicate as the skin of a Ming vase—Well, that explains a lot of things, doesn’t it?”
–Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear.
The three members of Fat Dog are easy to spot, standing in the middle of the University of East Anglia’s Brutalist grey stone campus. There’s Chris, the synth player, tall, with a shaggy blond mullet, and so much energy you can practically see it lightning-striking out of his body. There’s Morgan, the sax player, with a buzzcut, a quick demeanor and large, hyper-intelligent eyes. And there’s Joe, the front man, clad in a blinding white karate outfit, a white straw cowboy hat, an Errol Flynn mustache and a sneer.
Tonight, at UEA will be Fat Dog’s eighth gig opening for Sports Team’s ‘Friendship’ tour, and, needless to say, no one’s gotten much sleep in recent history. C’est la vie; rock n’ roll. For now, cigarettes, a Coke, and some jollof rice will fill the void of sleep. Tomorrow, they play the Roundhouse in Camden, a homecoming of sorts, and the biggest gig of the tour. “It’s gonna be really good,” Chris says. “I’m fucking terrified. No, don’t put that in there, it’s not terrifying at all. No fear. Just a no fear logo…”
At the student union pub, the rest of the band turn up as though someone’s rubbed a magic lamp. There’s Ben, the bassist, dark hair cropped short, luminous eyes, athletic build; and Johnny, the drummer, a jovial guy who plays every set with his face hidden behind a rubber dog mask. The south London-based band are hitting the studio to record as soon as the tour finishes, and plans for an album lurk in the near future. Recent changes in the band line up have resulted in the vocals of certain songs being altered, translated for Morgan’s sax. (Earlier this year, mere days before a career landmark gig at Lafayette London opening for Fat White Family, one of the guys messaged her and asked if she could play both sax and synth onstage. A true “jazz cat,” she pulled the whole impossible thing off with glorious aplomb, and she’s been handling both duties ever since.)
As the band continue to gain notoriety, fan interactions have begun to stray into a weird area: “I had someone ask me to pee on their shirt in Southampton. Lovely city,” Chris says, with blinding sarcasm. “You get a lot of people shouting, “fat dog!” at your head,” says Joe. “A lot of cowboy-hat stealing as well,” somebody puts in. “It’s quite annoying,” Joe, the keeper of the hat, mutters. Like the rest of the band (except Morgan, who’s bright-eyed and alert) Joe’s hungover, on no sleep, and in desperate need of a cigarette, having just driven five hours in a van. He shows me his newly chipped left front tooth, sustained in Bristol when sixteen kids started a rumble post-gig, snatching his cowboy hat and passing it around. (Fat Dog prevailed; the hat is still perched atop Joe’s curly hair.)
“But we’re doing all right, generally,” somebody shrugs.
“We don’t look all right, but…”
Over the course of the tour, there have been inevitable difficulties in playing as a support act to a band with a polar opposite modus operandi. “It’s one thing playing at the Windmill where everyone knows the band,” Chris says. “But playing to a crowd of people who are going to see a very different band as the main event…and you’re a support act? They’re not there to see you, they may not know your music and the best you can hope for as a support act is to get them doing something, make an impression. We’re at war. We’re trying to exhaust the crowd before the main people play. We just jump in the crowd, basically, and start pushing people around. Hopefully, you’ll see that tonight.”
He’s true to his word. Two minutes before the band burst onto the stage, something eerily similar to air-raid sirens starts blaring, with an intensity calculated to send the more sensitive members of the audience to the floor. “One minute…thirty seconds… ten seconds…” a disembodied mechanical voice drones, and suddenly the band arrive en masse, looking and sounding like a rock n’ roll outfit from the world of Blade Runner. It does indeed feel like a war of sorts is being waged—halfway through the first song, Chris and Ben leap from the proscenium, over the metal border rail and into the crowd to work up mosh pits. There’s no violence, only enthusiasm in their interactions with the audience, but one does get the impression that they’re in the trenches—physically, metaphorically.
Back onstage, they point finger guns at the crowd, clutching their instruments like machine guns, stances imbued with a frenetic tension. Joe’s glowing white karate suit and white hat give him the aura of a quasi-religious figure, a certain delirium in his gestures, in his interactions, and in the intensity with which he, Ben and Chris rouse the audience into a spinning circle of moshing bodies bordered by confused dads and a few mums who came along with their teenaged kids for a glimpse of Alex Rice, the millennial Mick Jagger. At first, nobody knows quite what to do with this opening act, but halfway through the set, the blank looks of confusion melt away from the faces of the lads and dads lining the back walls, and they’re head-banging, fist-pumping, grinning, the newest converts to the cult of Fat Dog.
A kid next to me in the front row is livestreaming the gig to various friends via constant Snapchat messages slathered with exclamation marks and fire emojis. Two other girls have followed the band over from the last city they played, so impressed with the previous performance that they travelled to see another. They’re grinning and holding up their phones, messages written on Notes app for the band to see. There’s a feeling of discovery in the air, of newness and excitement. “I’m the king of the slugs now!” Joe howls, and the crowd writhes in collective ecstasy. The band have managed to incite mosh pits amongst the bourgeoisie in the wilds of East Anglia–the night’s a consummate triumph.
Post-show, outside in the smoking area, everyone’s in a good mood. Chris and Ben crack each other’s backs, joking and chatting with fans. All the hand-made merch has sold out. An ecstatic fan models Morgan’s handiwork, a t-shirt with a drawing of a German Shepherd wearing a cowboy hat. Joe floats by, engaging only subliminally, smoking, staring off into the dark expanse of the Norfolk Broads. Anybody who’s in a band is a slave to passion—their own, other people’s. But how do you respond to the awkward, earnest compliments, the awed looks, time after time? There’s not much you can do other than say “thank you,” and tongues tire of that rather quickly. If I were Fat Dog, I’d want to get away as quickly as possible and vanish into the night, but to their eternal credit they stick around, responding gracefully, generously, to every interaction.
“When’s the last time you slept?” I ask Joe when we’ve finally left the venue and are on the way back to the pub.
“A couple of hours, this afternoon,” he says, puzzled.
“No, I mean at night.”
Joe and Ben burst into simultaneous cackles of laughter: “Sleep? At night?”
But it’s the end of the tour, the war’s almost over, and if the charming vampires of Fat Dog want to sleep at night again, they’ll soon have their wish granted. Although, I don’t think they want that, and secretly I think we’d all prefer it if they didn’t. Like everyone who saw them play this fall, I’m already living in anticipation of their next tour. Fat Dog forever, baby. It only gets better from here.