In the upstairs room of The Hope & Ruin, my amigo Dani urges me to shuffle forward as the rhythm begins to infect us, its pattern imprints glee on our faces, it courses through us and causes compulsive movements of our heads. We get amongst the movers at the front; two girls sporting brilliant vermillion hair and black statement hats are throwing shapes and an eager woman wide-eyes us and shudders enthusiastically to the beat. She informs us that we have missed the first band, the juicily named Plunge, and that they were “fucking ah-may-zing”, so, apologies Plunge, that I didn’t get to witness what your Facebook page enticingly describes as “an eerie blend of psychedelic rock music”.
This means that the guys that are currently quickening our pulses from the stage are The Light Brigade. The singer is an inconspicuous looking fellow; tidy beard and neat haircut in a burgundy shirt and jeans, he’s giving his all. Wringing his guitar like its made out of flannel he produces some truly squawking, filth-ridden licks and in between these assaulting runs he squeezes just as much from his own throat, his face beginning to match his shirt with the effort.
My attention though, is drawn behind him for much of the gig; the guy that perches on the drum stool is definitely a contender for the coolest drummer in the world award; eyes shut and mouth permanently formed in grimacing pout, though his apparent indifference is betrayed by the deftness of his drums rolls. He articulates the ever-steady beat with flourishes of tom and weighty cacophonous attacks on the crash cymbals. I am concerned that he may, at any moment, melt into the kit such is his laid back demeanour. The only real giveaway that his exertions have had any effect on him at all is not apparent until after the set, when I notice four of his shirt buttons are undone.
The rhythm guitarist too, is something to behold; he lopes around the stage, twisting and mangling his body into odd shapes that describe his dedication to the music perfectly. He stomps his way through the set, his legs looking like they’re about to give way due to sheer emotional investment. To his right, the bass player occupies centre stage, his feet planted far apart while he swings his instrument around with such confidence that I’m inclined to believe that what’s between his legs should belong to a bull.
These four men take the crowd on an eclectic journey through numerous iterations of their sound, showcasing their impressive sonic palette, which takes in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, West Ryder-era Kasabian, blues, and droney psych. My only criticism of their sound is that they do often rely too much on Soundgarden-esque choruses that descend into a head-banging void.
The final number begins in a manner reminiscent of the subdued, slightly unnerving style of Syd Barret. The singer addresses his crowd in a screaming agony, gesticulating furiously when not fingering his way around the fretboard, taking the song slowly to its climax of powerful grunge. As incongruous as it sounds, it works immaculately, his utterances blend into the haunting accompaniment through layers of reverb. The spell is only broken when Light Brigade exit the stage, and we are left to stew in the impact of what I view as a whole-hearted effort at amalgamating various touchstones of psychedelia and blending it with grunge.
If The Light Brigade were a good trip for me, then The Island Club, who follow them, are my comedown into a world dominated by emasculated indie pop bands. They float in on pseudo-psychdelic synth lines, whose promise of intrigue is quickly broken by the too-bright guitar tones that belong on an Ibiza Party Anthems CDs. This is kind of fun to listen to but the band don’t seem to embody their sound properly at all.
They prance about the stage like young giraffes that haven’t gained mastery of their legs yet, more concerned with their fringes than putting on a show. The Alex James-alike on bass is not convincing at all; his overly simplified riffs plod to the Euro-pop-on-guitars vibe. The singer is peddling himself as some kind of half-way house between Bon Iver and Orlando Weeks as he limply strums his largely unnecessary guitar, eyes squeezed shut as if to block out the muted reaction from the crowd. The keyboard player should be relegated to an eighties rock covers band, and the less said about the clunky, over-loud attempts at time-keeping of the drummer the better. The only positive thing I have to say about this band is that the lead guitarist exhibits the dexterity necessary to accentuate their rapid Foals-meets-Coldplay sound with dinky riffs, but he knows it, he bloody knows it all too well, and smugly grins his way through the entire ordeal.
This distinctly unimpressive display is made all the more uncomfortable when the vocalist implores the crowd to invest in t-shirts from the merchandise stand. It’s as if he genuinely believes that the crowd would want to publicly flaunt their affiliation with The Island Club’s insipid pose-pop.
I do, however, begin to reconsider my lack of enthusiasm for The Island Club’s sound when, during a slow burning number, I become more aware of the kind of space that the band are aiming to occupy. This song is more stripped back than the others; the input from the keyboard is minimal and the drums adopt a softer approach. As much as I wish to deny it there is beauty in this track; the spaces between the chord strums build up tension and the singer’s previously over-expressive voice becomes a lamenting croon as he hopes that “You won’t be the one to put me down”. If The Island Club are going to refine their sound, then this is what I would like to see; Spanish Sahara-esque guitar work that permits breathing space accompanied by doe-eyed, impassioned accounts of love.
Not my cup of tea, but I reckon, with work, this band could have something here. It’s not implausible that they could be heard playing over the end credits of a mushy rom-com at a cinema near you soon. But I’m not reviewing their sound, I’m reviewing their live presence and, tonight at least, it left a lot to be desired.
While The Island Club hone their craft and, hopefully, come up with some more reflective, pretty ballads, I would strongly recommend you tune in to the frequency of The Light Brigade, whose EP, Amber, was released on 11th March. From what I heard live, it’s going to contain some pretty impressive stuff.
By Adam Morrison