Before we properly get stuck in to a busy month of shows, I did just want to share a little story about a brief encounter with a fellow gig junkie with Olympic-level commitment to the live music cause. Taking a breather from the band’s during my day on Brighton beach for Bad Pond festival, I grabbed myself a chicken burger and found a spare table to eat at. A chap in a tie-dye Dillinger vest had the same idea, and we quickly fell into conversation. I clocked his Australian accent, and made the same crap joke I always make about him having come a bloody long way for the show. Nine times out of ten, the Aussie/Kiwi who gets to hear that line is over here working on an extended visa or has emigrated completely, but this one was different.
Adam – because that was his name – really had travelled halfway around the world to see a show, but the show that had led him to buy his plane tickets was the Daughters show in London the preceding evening. Which, coincidentally, I was at as well. Unsurprisingly, we got on very well. Combining the show with an opportunity to see some UK-based mates, Adam also had a short list of underground British bands he also hoped to strike lucky and see during the six short days of his trip. One of those bands was Palm Reader, which is why he had come to Brighton. Adam reeled off the list of other bands he had hoped to catch, and amongst them was Haggard Cat. And it just so happened that I had already seen one half of that particular duo, Vocalist/guitarist Matt, working on the Fireball Whiskey promotional stand at the festival, so I was able to point him out to Adam. He lost his shit. Then, during Palm Reader’s actual set, Matt popped up on stage to lend his screams to “Inertia”. From my vantage point, I could see Adam gripping the barrier and going at least fifteen shades of mental. Imagine traveling thousands of miles, getting to see a wishlist band through luck alone, and having a member of a seperate wishlist band do a guest spot with them. Had I been him, I’d have been losing my shit too.
I guess the point of sharing this little vignette is that, especially if you fly solo at shows, the dude standing beside you might have a great story to tell. So say hello. Adam had also travelled to New York to witness the final Dillinger shows, so we spoke at length about that, and I only lightly wanted to kill him in a jealous rage.
Aaaaaanyway, outside of intrepid antipodeans, April brought me a clutch of memorable and noteworthy shows – one of which I’ve been waiting the best part of a decade to witness. So we’d better get stuck in, hadn’t we? But just in case anyone cares about this type of thing, I’ve decided to retire the ‘gig of the month’ format entirely. Shows are good shows for any number of reasons, and more often than not I can’t really decide which show should get top billing. So I’m just going to write as much (or as little) as I feel about what I see, and leave the arbitrary rankings for someone else to worry about. Cool? Cool.
Caleb Scofield Memorial – Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Bossk
The first show of the month is both a special and a poignant one. On March 28 2018, the world lost Caleb Scofield in a tragic road accident. The shock of this loss reverberated around the world, and coalesced in numerous ways, including a considerable charitable effort to raise funds for Caleb’s young family. Caleb was part of a tight-knit community of musicians, playing together in various combinations under various guises, who – despite their grief – came together for a pair of memorial shows with the proceeds being donated to the family fund. The first was in Los Angeles in October last year, and also featured the first post-split performance from Isis (playing under the name Celestial, for obvious reasons), as well as Caleb’s bands, Old Man Gloom, Zozobra and Cave In.
For the second leg in London, we don’t get the Celestial set. I had been quietly hoping that they would be casually announced once the show had sold out, but my own selfish desires clearly are no match for practical logistics. Instead, the show is opened by British post-metal godfathers Bossk. Indeed, Bossk also opened the show the last time Old Man Gloom were in town, back in 2014, so there’s clearly some affinity there. Bossk, too, are also gearing up for their impending Roadburn set, where they will be playing latest album Audio Noir in full. This goes some way to explaining the appearance of “Relancer” in the set for the first time that I can recall.
Bossk are as blissed out and monolithic as always, and “Relancer” is long and gentle. As lovely as this may be, it does generate a bit of a mismatch of mood. We are in literal disco loadout territory, with a hard 10pm curfew, so Bossk take to the stage before 6:30. With the room steadily filling with punters that have been subjected to the tubes during Friday night rush hour, and hepped up to see the American bands, a set of Bossks heavier tunes would probably have landed better in the room than this more chilled out selection.
Old Man Gloom start their set with an intro tape of ominous noise, then hit us like a freight train. In a move that both respects their fallen comrade and highlights the close links between this family of bands, Cave In’s Steven Brodsky steps up to cover the bass, and Old Man Gloom’s Nate Newton repays the favour later. Playing a set predominantly drawn from the Ape Of God double album, they hit a damn near perfect balance of atmospheric and pure Neolithic grunt. There’s even a new song in the setlist, so we most certainly have not heard the last of the Gloom. Their stage time concludes with a mini set-within-a-set of a pair of Zozobra tracks that see Aaron putting down his guitar and stalking around the stage in broadly the same way that a transient shouts their way through a downtown traffic jam.As the band file off stage, Aaron says to the crowd that “this is music of profound sorrow at the loss of our brother, and of deep joy at the time we had together.” Or words to that effect. It is a fitting tribute.
I will admit that I’m not really familiar enough with Cave In’s music to really comment in much detail on their set, but it is a more uplifting counterpoint to Old Man Gloom’s primeval rumblings, sending us back out into the night on a high. It really is unspeakably sad that a tragedy as brutal as the loss of Caleb has fallen upon this tight-knit community of musicians, but at the same time I am sure that community has been the source of comfort and strength to those who have felt his loss most keenly, and the continued existence of the projects of which Caleb was a part will keep his memory alive in perpetuity.
Daughters at The Dome
We’ve been waiting an awfully long time to see Daughters on British shores again. The better part of a decade, in fact. So tickets for the London date of their European tour were snapped up almost as fast as those for the Caleb Memorial show. Daughters have never been a straightforward listen, and last year’s comeback album You Won’t Get What You Want intrigued and daunted me in equal measure. But nothing helps one unlock the mysteries of a difficult album like watching the band play the songs live, so I have high hopes for the set.
These hopes are further inflated by the fact that the show is booked for the 20th April, and that date’s unofficial status as Weed Christmas means that there is an alarmingly broad array of options for what to see on this particular evening. Most pertinently, the ever-excellent Holy Roar Records are hosting their second Holy Reefer event in the venue literally beneath our feet. Missing an opportunity to see Boss Keloid is always a disappointment, but employing the gig-clash resolution method of plumping for the band who you have had, or will have, fewer opportunities to witness is really the only route to maintaining sanity. I’m sure The Rule will have to be liberally applied over ArcTanGent weekend, for sure.
The tour support, Jessica93, are the only other act on the bill, and they transpire to be a one-man affair. Accompanied by a drum machine and a loop station, the sole musician lays down guitar and/or bass loops to build a series of doomy, and necessarily droney soundscapes. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the Jo Quail‘s mastery of this particular form, but the results of the layering this time are somewhat rudimentary. The drum machine, in particular, sounds like a refugee from the New Romantic era, making the whole thing feel very dated. I was fully expecting the support at this show to be an awkward curveball, but unfortunately Jessica 93 didn’t really do enough with the form to draw me in.
Daughters set doesn’t start completely as planned. The band file out and pick up their instruments, but it is only at the point they are all present and ready to go that they discover the bass rig is making no sound whatsoever. After a few minutes of frantic lead-checking and problem-solving, they are finally ready to go. However, halfway through opening track “The Reason They Hate Me”, Alexis Marshall’s microphone gives up the ghost as well. In frustration, he smashes it repeatedly on the stage, before grabbing a backing mic off a nearby stand. Perhaps these last minute delays and frustrations amp up both the band and the crowd, because what follows is frankly godlike.
There’s nothing quite like watching a band physically perform their music to unlock it’s secrets, especially when it is as awkward as Daughters. They play with such unshakable conviction that it’s hard not to be swept along in the rip-tide they create. “Satan In The Wait” is a real stand out moment, built around a hypnotic drums-and-bass motif and containing the mantra ‘Today is gonna feel like tomorrow some day. Tomorrow is gonna feel like yesterday’, which worked it’s way into my psyche so deeply I can virtually still hear it.
Trying to explain Daughters to the uninitiated is something of an uphill struggle. Their music has a nightmarish, uncomfortable quality that is as likely to push people away as draw them in. However – as the intensity of the pit at the front demonstrates, along with numerous individuals lost in their own personal raptures around the venue – those who get caught in its clutches care particularly deeply. Guitarist Nicholas has a particularly distinctive stage presence, moving in a way that it’s hard to work out precisely where his centre of gravity is as he wrings all manner of tortured sounds from his fretboard. Frontman Alexis stalks the stage and gets into the faces of the front row, his forehead already showing the wounds from his tendency to beat the mic against it. There’s at least a hint of Mike Patton in his persona, but also of Mark E Smith of The Fall and maybe even Perry Farrell on a particularly bad trip. There’s even a taste of the late great Mark Sandman of Morphine in his deep, drawling streams of consciousness.
I had been expecting to enjoy the show, but maybe not quite as much as I did in the end. The performance was absolutely enthralling, and I’m turn it really has unlocked the mysteries of You Won’t Get What You Want for me. To the extent where had this tour happened six months ago, the album would almost certainly have made my top ten. I have also found, subsequently, that there are a couple of very high quality live recordings on YouTube that are almost as good as being in the same room as the band. So, if you haven’t quite wrapped your head around Daughters yet, watching one of them could be just the ticket. After waiting the better part of a decade for shows on this side of the pond, Daughters will be back as part of the frankly outrageous ArcTanGent weekend, and it really can’t come soon enough.
Bad Pond Festival (Day Two), Brighton
If I was forced to move outside of London, then Brighton (down on the south coast) is probably where I’d most want to live. The city has a rich collection of quality venues of various sizes, and supports a thriving scene of interesting and innovative bands right across the heavy/alternative spectrum. One of the Nexus points of this local scene is Small Pond, who provide local bands with a full spectrum of support services, from rehearsal space through recording and mixing and on to release through a label. What splendid people. They have been running their Bad Pond festival for a number of years now, and the fourth installment takes place in Concorde 2, an excellent mid-sized venue sitting right on the seafront.
The Daughters show kept me away from the first day of proceedings, headlined by Three Trapped Tigers. But, the scheduling Gods must have been smiling upon me, as the majority of the bands on the bill that I wanted to see were booked for the Sunday. Hurrah. So I jump on a seaside-bound train and arrive at the venue just in time to catch my breath before The Guts perform. I love it when a plan comes together.
I’ve written about The Guts a couple of times in this column already, and it is safe to say that they are riding particularly high on my ‘ones to watch’ emerging band list. It may be early – around two in the afternoon – and the bizarre, antique lift that ferries perplexed families from the beach up to the promenade may still be in operation, with them being forced to pick their way through the crowd, but The Guts aren’t going to take it easy. Indeed, I’m not sure they’re even aware of the concept. Over the course of their 30 minute set, the only member of the band who doesn’t spend at least some time in the crowd is the drummer. Speaker stacks and structural poles are climbed, floors are writhed upon and a skateboard is skated. It’s hard to know which direction to look in.
When I first saw them last year, the comparison which most immediately sprang to mind was that The Guts were the bastard offspring of Heck and Rolo Tomassi, mixing math-core cleverness with punky adrenaline and a healthy dose of chaos. I don’t think I’m bettering that. It’s a tremendous amount of fun, and the exertions of the set leave various members crumpled in a heap as it draws to a close. What a wake-up call.
Bad Pond squeeze in as many bands as possible by alternating between the regular main stage and a considerably smaller second stage temporarily set up on the floor in the bar, leading to some particularly intimate performances. It is in here that I watch Press To Meco and Poly-Math both do their particularly impressive and wildly different things, even if the space works rather better for the former than the latter, who are constantly battling the evil gods of feedback. On the main stage, Body Hound and Town Portal both unfortunately belong to the school of math rock that I connect with the least, but Ohhms deliver a splendidly blissed-out mixture of desert rock and post-metal that lands particularly well on this unseasonably warm day.
My final band of the day is Palm Reader, another current favourite of mine. They’ve given me plenty of opportunities to watch them play over the last year since they released their outstanding third album, Braille, but they are on especially fine form, delivering potentially the best set I’ve seen them from them yet. A rejigged setlist sees them boldly open with potentially their strongest song, “Internal Winter” and joined by Matt from Haggard Cat for “Inertia”. The band are clearly riding the crest of a wave right now and hopefully this momentum will carry into the next batch of songs they write. As it stands, Palm Reader look like they could become the ideological heirs to Poison The Well, and I’m thinking that the next album could well confirm that.
An Evening With Devin Townsend
For some reason, over the course of many years in the capital, I had only had cause to visit Bush Hall once – to see Nordic Giants in 2017. But, after returning earlier this year for The Lounge Kittens, I’m back again to see Devin Townsend play ‘An evening with…’ acoustic set. What’s more, I’ll be back in early May to see Amenra, who will also be playing acoustically. I expect I’ll have something to say about that next month.
Tonight’s show throws me a bit of a surprise. Devin is playing with no support tonight, with two sets seperated by an interval, so I plan my arrival for about 15 minutes before he is due to start. However, it transpires that the show is seated, and there are slightly fewer seats than tickets. Dammit. Fortunately, I find a convenient grand piano to lean against in the back corner of the room, just as Devin wanders onto the stage with minimal fanfare.
If I’m counting correctly, this is the fifth acoustic show I’ve seen Devin play, but tonight follows a slightly different format. Each half of the show features a collection of tracks drawn from across his vast discography and beyond, and also a Q&A session. To give those sessions some semblance of order, clipboards have apparently been placed on the stage prior to the show for people to scribble on. It’s a neat concept, especially with someone as open and naturally amusing as Devin holding the mic.
However, it would be fair to say that despite that vast discography, Devin has fallen into a fairly standard repertoire of songs that he relies upon for these acoustic shows, and the only track he plays tonight that I’ve not heard given this treatment previously is a curveball cover of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Similarly, the two Q&A sessions cover a lot of the same ground that Devin spoke about at the Empath documentary screening last month. But, with that being said, not everyone is quite as obsessed with getting to every single Devin-flavoured event as I am, so I guess some allowances should be made. When the shows were announced, I bought tickets for both London dates in a virtually Pavlovian response, but subsequently realised that one would really be enough and sold the second. That was the right call.
That’s not to say, of course, that Devin wasn’t on form. This stripped back form acts as a platform for Devin’s slightly goofy amiability, but also the genuinely remarkable power of his vocal cords. When he really lets rip, it’s plausible that he wouldn’t have needed any assistance from the PA to fill the room. Hitting rich, deep notes, high falsettos and screams all at the same volume displays a musician completely in control of his voice as an instrument, and it is truly captivating. The evening is slightly lopsided, with the overwhelming majority of the music being performed in the first half of the show, and it might have been preferable to balance it more evenly, but that’s only a minor niggle. There really aren’t many musicians who can pull off this kind of intimate show as well as the big set-piece productions like Retinal Circus.
Ho99o9 at The Garage
The first time I went to see Ho99o9 play a headline show, the opening band was Nova Twins, who I instantly fell in love with. So I had high hopes for the unfamiliar Plack Blague, opening the show this time around. Those hopes were misplaced. The EDM duo appear to operate on shock value alone, with their somewhat portly vocalist taking to the stage in leather chaps, waistcoat and cap, a studded posing pouch, a balaclava and aviator sunglasses. It’s a strong look. He howls through a mic soaked in reverb over a procession of unremarkable and largely directionless thumping trance tracks. Perhaps it would make more sense in a side room of a fetish club at four in the morning, but here and now only a small, bouncing knot of fans right at the front of this sold out room seem to be enjoying the show. It’s definitely not for me.
Ho99o9 themselves are, of course, a riot. Playing the entirety of their new EP, Cyber Cop, in amongst fan favourites from their back catalogue, they whip the crowd up to a level of frenzy I don’t believe I’ve seen in this room – and that includes a Dillinger tour around the time of Option Paralysis. Their hybrid of The Prodigy, Beastie Boys and Bad Brains is as infectious as it is singular, and after Plack Blague have shown just how easy it is for these types of experiments to fail, Ho99o9 show us how it should be done. There is a feeling of legitimate danger, like literally anything could happen. Attempting to capture this feeling on record had met with mixed results, but onstage – especially with the sheer weight of air being moved by the bass bins, Ho99o9 are an essential, if sweaty, experience. The grand finale to the main set is a tribute to The Prodigy, as Ho99o9 had guested on a track on the last Prodigy album. Playing a medley of their greatest hits followed by the actual track, “Fight Fire With Fire” is a fitting tribute to the late Keith Flint. Although the man himself is irreplaceable, one can’t help but wonder whether – at some point in the future – Ho99o9 could fill his shoes for a full Prodigy set.
For me, May is all about Amenra. The Belgian post-metal titans will be headlining the Saturday of Desertfest, spread across three Camden venues over the first weekend of the month, and also playing a special acoustic show a couple of days beforehand. I can’t wait. Beyond that, we have Employed To Server’s album release show, which is guaranteed to be a rowdy affair and with Devil Sold His Soul and Loathe in the support slots, a strong contender for Bill Of The Year. The Conjurer/Pijn collaboration Curse These Metal Hands will have only it’s second live outing, as main support on We Never Learned To Live’s album release show, and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving will be coming all the way from Australia for their first UK show, with Jo Quail in support.