To use an old footballing cliche,tonight is a gig of two halves – thankfully that is only down to the performances as the music on offer is first rate throughout.
Callum Pickard & the Third Look are first and are a Coventry based indie band with a laid back 60’s vibe. Hints of Velvet Underground, but with a nod to Arcade Fire on the more rhythmically pounding songs, possibly due to the drummer using beaters for these. Great arrangements with interesting stops and diversions help to add colour to songs that, if there is any criticism at all, sound a little too much alike. This often happens when a singer/songwriter moves from solo to fronting a band; the band follow their leader instead of finding a new persona that takes on a new more interesting form.
And this is the difference between tonight’s bands; Callum’s band has him as the focal point and are happy to remain statuesque and in his long shadow. Sun Club, as we shall see, are dynamic shafts of blinding light.
The Third Look are made up of four musicians who are misleadingly shy and retiring on stage. The rhythm/lead guitarist came out of nowhere, hidden as he is behind a curtain of long hair, but when you see what he is doing you notice he is playing beautifully picked rhythm lines and fascinating solos. Similarly the bass guitarist understands the essence of bass having rhythm and melody: best bass guitarist of the year, no doubt about it for me… and he is the only one of the band to smile and look as if he is enjoying himself… the others are so serious. There are some tempo issues but on the whole the drummer mixes things up using sticks and beaters and adds to the overall balance with great intelligence. Vocals are decent, although a little dreamy and as such never take centre stage or make anything like a bold statement. Callum still has a bit to learn about not being a singer/songwriter and about being a band leader. He should try and enjoy himself as well: he is putting together good songs and he has a solid band behind him, what could be better.
After a short break in which mountains of electronic gadgets are brought on stage, Sun Club burst onto the stage. They are American (from Baltimore), so you can forgive their sickening over-confidence, but you soon realise the reason for their conviction is their utter brilliance… you also learn quite quickly that they have no idea how good they are and are heart-warmingly humble.
From the first beat, all five members of the band are bouncing; literally. Lead singer Mikey Powers is never close to his microphone, his mouth is always above or below it, as he bobs and weaves like Barry McGuigan on whizz. Similarly, Adam Shane on bass jumps up and down on the spot; his movements are so frenetic that his bass guitar breaks at the strap and has to be duck-taped back together again. What is stunning though, is the fact they do all their frenzied movements on such a tiny stage. They are like battery hens let loose: used to working in a single foot square of a factory, they use every inch to the absolute maximum, never straying from the realms of the space of their original cages. Total effort and focus on performance, with the result that you cannot take your eyes off any of them for a second. It is mind-blowing.
Added to the visual blur of energy is the symphony of musical textures they play from their album “The Dongo Durango”, as they blend tribal rhythms with jazz-psychedelia, 60’s surf, with pop, punk, hip-hop and indie. Boom! Somehow they dismantle a pop song into its core components of hooks and melodies, and build a track from dozens of them: why repeat a chorus hook, when you have another better, different hook to run with when the chorus is finished? I admit it is fast and sometimes confusing to follow, as no sooner has your brain thought, I like that, they move onto something else, and rarely go back to repeat the earlier part.
Masterfully hypnotic, intelligently produced and performed clinically yet with a gay abandon. You will not witness a better band live this year… but you better be quick as they are only in the UK for another 5 days, playing Glasgow, Manchester, London and Brighton, before continuing the tour in France from Saturday.
My only criticism is that it is over too quickly. A 35 minute set with no encores, is more like an appetiser: I am ready for the main course, so come back soon.
Review: Alan Neilson