It’s a general misconception that the Gym Class Heroes clan should by default be another pop punk rock band due to the roster their label boasts. Fueledbyramen is the original home of Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and The Academy Is…, but it’s safe to say that this group of misfits don’t fit into any of the genres in which those bands could be pegged. There’s no two ways about it, Gym Class Heroes are straight-up commercial (albeit slightly wacky) hip-hop. They’re too cool for school.
When GCH were last here a few months ago, they opened up for Fall Out Boy to dubious ears. Some threw bottles and got impatient and some cheered along, the fact that the artists were friends with their bigshot labelmates being enough to charm their little ears off. Now they’re back for a solo headlining tour, playing the same venues they did earlier in the year – although the crowd seem much more enthusiastic this time around. This is probably due to the fact that they’re showcasing new songs for the first time from hotly-tipped new album ‘As Cruel As School Children’, a record which will no doubt project the quartet into Academy hotspots on their next visit.
But back to tonight. The Barfly is sold out; a feat that is usually only achieved by true rising superstars. And packed in like well oiled (read: sweat-ridden) sardines in a can, the atmosphere is hard to resist. Soaking in the audience’s attire, it’s somewhat fun to note that a lot of people here aren’t dressed like emo punksters – they’re wearing backwards caps, low-riding pants and those unafraid of getting beaten up are even daring to flash a bit of bling. Already it’s evident that GCH have garnered their own audience, which is pleasing as previous to this visit they only had Fall Out Boy fans to rely on.
By the time Gym Class hit the stage, there’s already an impatient buzz filling the air. Weaving to the back in fear of passing out, suddenly you’re hit by a mass of industry people. Island Records have made an appearance, presumably due to the label link (Fall Out Boy are now on Island while the rest of the FBR bands are divided by their original indie label and Atlantic), as have, interestingly enough, a few talent scouts. Could this mean big things?
Due to the band’s top-notch performance, that’s quite likely. Opening with new single Queen and I, an intelligent first release from the new record considering most fans will probably presume it’s dedicated to the heritage of our country, it’s clear that GCH feel squashed. The Barfly stage is, for some reason, smaller due to a huge curtain sectioning off the back area. On about 3×10 sq ft of floor, they somehow manage to fit two guitarists, lead singer, drummer, keyboard/electro dude and, er, a touring back up rapper. Safe to say, there’s no room for movement. Although it doesn’t really matter as all frontman Travis McCoy seems to enjoy doing is bopping up and down as if on a pogo stick.
The sound system could be better, but is as expected for such a small space. Perspiring at a rapid pace, McCoy takes off his hoodie and suddenly this action causes a flashback – eyesight swiftly moving down his body, it’s apparent that we’ve entered the 90’s. Huge, unlaced, neon trainers? Oh yes, the Fresh Prince is most definitely back.
Unlike most other hip-hop artists, McCoy and gang don’t rely on tracking and iPods. Where electronics are used they’re mostly created there and then by their touring keyboardist, but centrally the instruments that hold the songs together are standard guitars and drums. This factor gives off a slightly more rock vibe than we’re used to – plus Travis mixes between singing and rapping (to the extent that, on the new album, there are songs in which he doesn’t rap at all). Slated as “the pioneers of indie hip-hop”, after this show I’m inclined to agree.
Perhaps one of the highlights of the night occurred towards the end. Guitarist Disashi started the intro to a Panic! At The Disco song (that band need no further introduction) and Travis yelled – “So who here knows this?”. To which there was an utterly surprising silence. No raised hands, no yelling, nothing. No-one knew. That little stint just goes to show that Gym Class Heroes are in a world of their own. They might be friends with punk boys, they might play with them and they might even get them to sing on their records but at the end of the day, the fact that they’ve managed to grow a thriving fanbase on just their second visit here speaks for itself. Expect big things to come, I know I can’t wait.