There is a magic to gigs that I can never get over. You’re standing in a chilly, near empty basement that smell alarmingly of damp and rubber, then some people appear on stage, a crackle of energy runs through the room, knobs are turned and sockets filled, then the bass notes start. Deep and squelchy, solid noise pushes at your ears into your head and vibrates the skin between your ball bag and arsehole. People arrive from nowhere like they'd been waiting in the shadows all along, and suddenly you’re at a gig. A Dionysian U-space shared not only with everyone in that room, but also with everyone ever that has ever drunk lager in a plastic cup, stood in a crowd and lost themselves even for a second. Magic. Even on a Tuesday.
The first band, Happy Machine, lead in with the traditional noisescape until kicking in with some tight upbeat indie that veers into shoegaze in all the right places. They sound Nirvana-ish in places and all the better for it. This is helped by the lead singer's voice which is not only influenced by Cobain but all the American Grunge era front men, although at times it did touch Robert Newman’s impression of Robert Smith (kids ask you’re cooler uncle about that reference)
The drummer, maybe in honour of the main acts name-a-like is tight and controlled allowing the more spiralling noise guitars to stray from the path a little. All together it produced a big stage festival sound from just the three of them.
***OLD MAN DIGRESSION ALERT*** When did it become okay to come on stage dressed like you’ve just finished clearing your step-dad's garage? And don't you dare say “grunge”. My generation invented Grunge and its dirty little secret was that grunge was as preformative as any other sub cultural uniform, a cultivated dishevelment. Cobain probably spent longer picking out which cardigan to wear than Bowie spent zipping himself into his glitter cat suits ***OLD MAN DIGRESSION ALERT***
The set ends.
“For tonight were called Happy Machine, we don’t know about the next show” They come from the band Tusk, so I guess keep checking. I know I will.
Let’s Talk Daggers driving drums and squelch guitar rip into the relative quiet of the break. Cock punching all complacency out of the room. Their songs change pace abruptly but not without making sense in the grammar of the songs themselves. Hardcore, funky breakdowns, and poppy choruses, fighting for attention.
The music bounces from grand and structured to messy fun with changes of tempo that although different still feel part of the same song, like sub clauses in a sentence, all of which delivered with raw energy and, again, a drummer holding all together with sure hands. The obvious comparison would be System Of A Down, but with less theatrics and a U.K mathrock edge. This is a band you’ll love but you’re friends will never let you play in the car.
Barely enough time to get another round in before Gringo Star take the stage, mob handed by the looks of it. Gringo Star are a four piece but feel a lot more with a fuller, more polished sound and a thousand instrument on a small stage. A little older than the rest of the bands too, this experience shines through. They play stuff that would have easily sat in the Brit-Pop section had they been around twenty years ago (and not, yknow, american), that is to say guitar based indie music with deep pop sensibilities, and a quirky authorial voice that sits comfortable next to Jarvis Cocker and Gaz Coombes.
Generalities aside, pinning the sound down is hard. They do a lot with the palette I've described, for example when the high steel guitars come in, the sound walks the line between Surf Rock and Hard Country and Western, when the keyboards kick, the best part of sixties psychedelia are invoked. At their best I would compare them to the Violent Femmes - and my praise doesn't get higher than that.
They finish and leave, when the drummer comes back to pack kit the crowd cheer for an encore and are obliged. Then, the magic is over. No longer a gig, just the same cool damp room with smiling slightly deaf strangers all trying to find their coats they stashed making plans for dietary abominations they will acquire on the way home. Lives made more bearable through the ritual of music and souls made lighter, less burdened through a connection to other. Magic.