12633559_10153200755810793_5399757254951612523_oThe Heavy. (photo: Francesca Allen.)

“How You Like Me Now,” the thumping, brassy, and unforgivingly sassy breakthrough single by English soul-rockers The Heavy is an inescapable presence. You’ve heard it, whether in movies (The Fighter, Horrible Bosses), video games (Borderlands 2, Little Big Planet 3), or every time your favorite hockey player scores a home goal (Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks). It’s reached cultural ubiquity, offering definitive proof of how licensing is an avenue to influence. In itself a stellar single, straddling the line between sincere and sinister, “How You Like Me Now” stands as a classic achievement, immediate on first impact and just as immediate for each additional listen.

Although “How You Like Me Now” reached stratospheric heights, the band themselves have remained hanging by a thread below. Never quite able to use the song’s success as an engine to propel the rest of their catalog, The Heavy have hovered at more of less the same level of fame for most of their career. While a few singles, including “Short Change Hero” and “Same Ol,” have kept the band in ad spots and on the speed dial of Hollywood trailer editors, a majority of US listeners are still oblivious to the name of the act infecting their heads with brilliant earworms almost every time they leave a theater. Which is quite a shame, because The Heavy are seriously rad.

Musically, the band has an inclination for the cinematic: not the grandiose climaxes of high-wire dramas and action films, however, but rather for cheesy 1980s slasher flicks, karate movies with shoestring budgets, and the original era of blaxploitation. Lead singer Kelvin Swaby has the diction of a superstar, and drops lyrics so cool they might as well be tag lines for the movies the band’s songs will inevitably soundtrack. Would “I can’t afford to be there/My name is on the list” not just fit perfectly on a poster for the next Mission Impossible? Their music sounds so good over quick cutaway shots of handsome-looking A-listers dodging bullets and dropping edgy bursts of catchphrase-speak because it’s volatile, brazen, and most importantly, a heck of a lot of fun.

I don’t want to keep boxing the band into the label of “movie trailer score composers,” because The Heavy have recorded four great albums over the course of the past decade that slay on a purely auditory level. From the low-stakes strut of 2007’s “Girl” to this year’s Hurt & The Merciless standout “Turn Up,” there’s hardly a dud in the quartet’s catalogue. Vitality and versatility are the band’s greatest strengths, the former embodied by their spirited live performances (a reputation built on brilliant footwork, crowd engagement, and showmanship), and the latter by their ability to write garage-burners (“You Don’t Know”) as ecstasy inducing as their moonlit ballads (career-highlight “Blood Love Dirt Stop”). Swaby pleads, pines, and calls for action over any backdrops his bandmates Dan Taylor (guitar), Spencer Page (bass), and Chris Ellul (drum) conjure up.

The ease at which the band goes in and out of musical styles is a signal of their well-practiced chops, which won me over three years ago when they performed at Outside Lands. Although only the second act I ever saw at a festival, The Heavy remain my favorite performance from any of the three-day weekends I’ve spent in Golden Gate Park. I lost my voice three songs in, and exhausted to dust the remaining husk that were my vocal cords to continue singing along throughout the rest of their set. I can’t recommend a band to see live any more highly, so please take my word for it when I say they are a show you need to include on your concert bucket list. Did you write them down yet? Good, because fortunately for you they’ll be performing at The Independent on April 26. That means you’ll soon be able to check them off as a personal accomplishment, but the moment you leave the venue they’ll probably end up on a more exclusive list anyway: the bands you need to see a second time before you die.

The Heavy, Jesse Jo Stark
The Independent
April 26th, 2016