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Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007

  by Paul Raven

published: 12 / 2 / 2007

Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007


New Pennyblackmusic writer Paul Raven remains distinctly unmoved by the brash New York-style ghetto-pop of Gym Class Heroes at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth

As if I wasn't discomforted enough by being at least half again as old as everyone in the building, the broad demographic cross-section in the venue has me wondering what I'm in for - I've never heard of Gym Class Heroes before. Before the band take to the stage, one of the few attendees old enough to be buying himself alcohol is stood at the bar with his back to me. His T-shirt reads: “To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.” This doesn't bode well, I think to myself. Gym Class Heroes finally arrive to screams that peak in the female register, and launch straight into a set of brisk and confident New York-style ghetto-pop. The band are fairly unremarkable to look at (with the exception of the bass player, who appears to be a pony-tailed reincarnation of Tom Cruise from the 'Top Gun' era), but they pump out a tight energetic set of music that serves as side-salad for the rapping and antics of fluffy-haired poster-boy frontman, Travis. Travis is very much the charisma engine of the outfit, and one can imagine that most of the other players could be easily exchanged for a new model without any noticeable effect – not least the second vocalist who, when not doing back-ups on the last two words on each line, seems mainly engaged in waving a large flag with the band's logo around and flailing his arms a lot. No, this is Travis's show, no doubt about it. The musicians play their part well, but they know just as well as the audience that they're not there to be looked at, except during the occasional eight bar solo. They crank out a set of songs with a variety of styles and flavours, from funk to hip-hop with a detour through rock, but with little true substance – anything too intrusive might distract from their purpose as a vehicle for for the vocals. So it's no surprise to find that Travis's songs are mostly about, well, Travis. His past girlfriends; his 'tough' childhood in New York (that seems to have left him astonishingly well-adjusted and confident); how hard he finds it to write a song sometimes; his irresistible appeal to the fairer sex. Despite the superficial hip-hop stylings, there's no convincing sense of edge or danger here at all; the word 'motherfucker' has never sounded so friendly. But what a response the word gets – the audience are in the palm of his hand right from the outset. When he says “make some noise”, the kids make some noise - joyfully. And as regards his sex appeal – well, let's just say that the girls in the audience don't act in a manner that would disprove his assertions. Confidence and impeccable crowd skills aside, his rapping and singing sound the same on every song, varying only in tempo. And if you disregard the occasional cuss-word, most of it is the sort of thing that wouldn't upset the average parent too much – think the Bloodhound Gang, minus the overly crude innuendos. It's light, approachable summer-time music, made to measure for MTV daytime. I can't stand it. But I am a minority of one, nursing my music fascism at the back of a seething crowd of college kids who are having the time of their lives. They don't care that the music is forgettable, that Travis only wants to talk about himself, or that there is a palpable irony in middle-class teenagers from the UK soaking up the superficial imagery and attitude of US ghetto culture before rushing outside to get a lift home in Dad's Audi. They don't give a damn. They're having a great time. A girl passes me on her way to the toilets, and asks me why I'm stood so far back. “Don't you like them, then?” “Not really my thing, to be honest,” I reply. She looks baffled. “How can you not like them? They're awesome!” she says, and runs off. I ponder this question for a while. Why don't I like them? There's nothing really awful about Gym Class Heroes; nothing that I can point to in fury and rant about. I think the worst I can say about them is that they're inoffensive, that they have nothing to say – that they are relentlessly and unashamedly populist. This thought stays with me, right through the band singing happy birthday to some kid called Tom, performing the inevitable song about meeting people on MySpace, and then belting out a smooch number based around a sample from a Supertramp record that pre-dates the birth dates of the entire audience. Gym Class Heroes are the sound of worry-free college holidays laden with sunshine: sneaky spliffs, snogging and skateboards. I'm sure I had a life like that once, but I don't remember listening to music like Gym Class Heroes at the time. Perhaps that's my loss, though. I think back to that kid's T-shirt, and consider that its designer may have got it wrong. Maybe you have to be young and wise before you end up old and stupid. The photographs that accompany this article were taken exclusively for Pennyblackmusic by Katie Anderson

Picture Gallery:-
Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007

Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007

Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007

Gym Class Heroes - Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth, 4/2/2007

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Gym Class Heroes (2008)
Gym Class Heroes - Gym Class Heroes
Katie Anderson photographs New York indie/hip hop group Gym Class Heroes and its front man Travis McCoy at show at the Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms

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