When you go to a gig you expect the loud music and the press of bodies to keep you nice and warm but last night it was even colder inside the Barfly than it was outside.
In a city the size of Birmingham, for barely 40 people to make it out to see three decent, hotly-tipped bands is nothing short of embarrassing. I’m even being generous with 40 – deduct those of us sent along to review or photograph the gig, the promoters, the bar staff and the band members themselves… it doesn’t bear thinking about.
So, to the bands and Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man were first up. Singer Frederick Blood-Royale (crazy name, crazy guy) acts like Jarvis with demons. He stalks around the stage making like a mop-topped Nosferatu while the band churn up some suitably gothic (but not goth) ambience. He has a nice line in theatrical posturing although you get the impression that the torment doesn’t run that deep.
It was a bit Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-lite, but I’d much rather see a band striking out in that direction than be supjected to yet another bunch of first-on-the-bill, Oasis/Stone Roses wannanbes. A decent start to the evening then.
Cazals weren’t quite what I was expecting. Being signed to a label like KitsunÃ© means that there’s no shortage of remixers available to point their tunes towards the dancefloor and so the songs that I do know, I realised I only know via samples. While I was expecting neon, synths and drum machines, the reality is sharp, power-pop.
‘Time Of Our Lives’, ‘New Boy In Town’ and ‘Cut A Long Story Short’ plough similar furrows, marrying lively guitar riffs and slightly gruff vocals. Now and then there’s a hint of an electro influence – a synth is brought into service a couple of times and one song starts and finished with the tick of a drum machine – but they’re a guitar band first and foremost.
The set was rounded off with new single ‘Life Is Boring’ and ‘Poor Innocent Boys’ and those of us that were there clapped appreciatively (not just to keep our hands warm as big-coated singer Phil recommended). The thing is, Cazals aren’t a band to be watched and admired from a distance; they’re a band to get involved with and move along and so were hamstrung by tonight’s circumstances.
Mercifully, given the cold, Cut Off Your Hands took to the stage slightly early and seemed keen to just give a good account of themselves and get out. The Auckland quartet trade in a similar sound to fellow co-headliners Cazals although they keep the tone a little lighter.
Singer Nick Johnstone didn’t seem at all happy, turning away from the sight of an empty venue at every chance and betraying his Martin Fry-clean-cut looks occasionally by leaning back and spitting above himself. An injcection of spit and bile didn’t hamper the songs though – ‘Still Fond’ was fast-pace jangle-pop, ‘You And I’ was a riot of staccatto guitars and vocals and although ‘Oh Girl’ took a poppier, more laidback approach the choruses retained an edge.
I was impressed by Cut Off Your Hands – a great band that more than kept up their side of the deal on a bad night. When Nick signed off by announcing ‘This has been the most depressing night of my life’ I could only sympathise.
Words – Chris Unitt
Photos – Lee Allen