The War on Drugs + Cloud Control + We Were Evergreen @ Birmingham HMV Institute – 12th February 2012


I’m not one to stay in on a Sunday night. It’s a perfectly good night like all the others. So I was pleased to see that the HMV Next Big Thing show was on the traditional day of rest. The ‘next big things’ in question were The War on Drugs, Cloud Control, and We Were Evergreen. The first two names in that list being two of my favourite new acts of 2011, so I had high hopes that the third could join their ranks. I went to the Temple at HMV Institute to find out.

The Temple is a bit of an odd room. It’s dark, a funny shape with the sound desk protruding into the room and at the very top of the Institute so you have to walk all the way up through the empty building to get to the gig. It’s even more odd when you’re near enough the only person there apart from a gaggle of excited sixteen-year-olds and their taxi driver/mother. But after a bit of a wait (a worryingly long one) the Sunday-night crowds started to filter in to check out the new wave of talent ready to break through.


First up were We Were Evergreen. Hailing from London but sporting a couple of accents between them, the three-piece took to the stage to almost complete silence and unassumingly picked up their instruments. There was no drummer to be seen and no bass guitar so I was intrigued to hear what sound they’d make with a keyboard, a ukelele, and a guitar. Bathed in unflattering green light (Evergreen, we get it, nice one lighting man) the band struck up with uke and keys building before a backing track with drums and bass kicked in. It was evident from the off that their thing was ‘twee-ness’. It’s hard not to be twee holding a ukelele (unless you’re Eddie Vedder) and We Were Evergreen were definitely twee. A twee-piece if you will.

Intertwining keyboard and ukelele melodies produced a smattering of foot-tapping and head bobbing, but on the most part failed to grab the attention of a reticent audience until their final track that unexpectedly turned into a stomping raver. Well, I say stomping, but in truth it was probably only the stand out due to the gentle nature of the rest of the set. It’s hard to open a gig, especially on a Sunday in Birmingham, and there was potential there, but ‘next big thing’? I very much doubt it.


Next up to make claim to the title of next big thing was Australia’s Cloud Control. I’ve reviewed them twice before, both in Digbeth, so the indie folk-rock four-piece are becoming something of a staple for me. The last two times I’ve seen them they’ve been energetic, exciting, and totally engaging. So it was a little surprising as they made for the stage in an uncharacteristically subdued manner. One false start and a lengthy tuning break mad em worry for the rest of the set before all was explained as lead singer/guitarist Alister Wright told us they were suffering from jetlag.

Thankfully, the band got themselves back on track, improving as the set went on with Deathcloud and Gold Canary — recent singles from debut album Bliss Release — provoking recognition in the eager crowd, many of whom seemed to have come specifically for them. While the set lacked energy and a couple of mistakes from the sound desk (one of which wiped out the only keyboard solo), Cloud Control still showed why they have the chops to be a success. Interesting arrangements, great guitar playing, earnest vocals, and some top class bass work stand them apart from your run-of-the-mill alternative trendies. The band usually pack their set with charm and humour, and despite this being blunted by tiredness, the audience gave them a big reception and they are clearly establishing a fan-base, if only around these parts. Before leaving they promised to return soon armed with a new album of songs. I for one can’t wait, but hope they’ve had a kip first.


The final act was The War on Drugs, a band I’ve enjoyed for a little while on their latest album Slave Ambient. Thinking about it, ambient is a good word to describe Philadelphia’s scruffy indie rockers. The album is groove-based, krautrock-referencing trawl through middle America with building guitar lines, hypnotic bass and strained Dylan-esque vocals. So I was looking forward to seeing them live and getting locked into their expansive sound.

Entering the stage all shaggy beards and checked shirts, The War on Drugs looked like they’d be at home in a rough country and western bar having bottles thrown at them by the local hicks. But thankfully the sound they make is much more refined. Shimmering, reverb-lacquered guitars, pulsing organ, and intricate wandering bass lines give The War on Drugs a widescreen sound that demands you close your eyes and go along for the ride. Their music is clearly all about the feeling. About being swept away by the layers and textures and being pulled through the set by the rhythms.


However, the Sunday-night crowd didn’t seem to agree. There were a couple of early departures, some restless feet, and a couple of disinterested faces. Perhaps it was the lack of neat pop hooks, or the singer’s refusal to sweep the mop of curly hair from his face, or the lack of recognisable radio hits that put them off. But the main reason, I’m almost sure, was the sound. The singer’s voice, while not what you’d describe as classically trained, sounded trebly and shrill and on several occasions wasn’t pleasant to listen to. Maybe he’s not up to much as a live singer, or maybe the sound man really let him down, but either way it marred what could have been a great show and distracted from the good work the band were doing. Only Baby Missiles got a big reaction, perhaps thanks to airtime on BBC 6Music, and I left feeling like I hadn’t seen a true reflection of what The War on Drugs could really do.

Overall, I don’t think the three bands I saw will ever live up to their ‘next big thing’ billing. They’re good bands playing interesting alternative music and will find success in mid-sized venues and festivals but as for chart success, or mainstream popularity, I just can’t see it happening. Even the people who’d made the effort to come out and see them weren’t totally convinced. I’d like for the mainstream to appreciate musical talent, but unfortunately, these bands just don’t scream commercial success despite their promise.


Review – Ian Ravenscroft
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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1 thought on “The War on Drugs + Cloud Control + We Were Evergreen @ Birmingham HMV Institute – 12th February 2012

  1. Love the lights on the top image. How you get that effect Steve? take with a little flash and shake the camera during exposure?

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