Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

Welcome to the latest instalment of ‘Stop being lazy – it’s Sunday Funday!’ If the local music scene has taught me anything, it’s that there is always, always something interesting happening on a Sunday night. Get yer gladrags on. Sleep is for wimps. (Cue the sound of me snoring in the distance.)

This particular evening of delights is in collaboration with the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign. This campaign aims to stand up against sexual assault and violence on the music scene. I’ve talked about this before, and I will talk about it again. If you see the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK stickers at an event, please wear one. You can find more information on the campaign here. Show solidarity, support the victims, demonstrate that this behaviour is not acceptable. This is our music scene, and it will become what we make it.

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These bands are not deterred by sleepy Sunday feelings, nor by a small and sombre crowd. They come packing maximum volume and ready to raise the dead. The first band to the stage are Whitelight, a duo comprising of James Watton (vocals and guitar) and Stasys Sliauteris (drums and backing vocals). I’m not sure what to expect from them. So far they only have one song recorded; their debut single, ‘Shiver’. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Shiver’ is a cracker – but it’s difficult to get a real sense of a band from just one track. ‘Shiver’ brings a quality rock feel with a tight instrumental and a mid-range smooth vocal.

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In terms of live performance, Whitelight are pretty addictive. They bring tons of passion to their sound. They use political themes and power – they make you want to fight. Sliauteris is a skilful drummer, and Watton’s hands flit across his guitar as if he was born to it. He has an extremely versatile voice, which carries a softer tone all the way through to screamo. This bodes well for the future, I think. Their sound is at times punky, at times verging on metal, at times heavy classic rock. The only thing I want from them is confidence. Announce yourselves! Work the crowd! You have talent, so act like it.

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The second band to the stage are one of my absolute favourites in the whole wide world. (Me? Biased? Whatever do you mean? Seriously though, they are that good.) They bring Slaughterhouse Blues/Trash Country; the genre you never knew you needed. Trust me, you need it. The Hungry Ghosts emerge. The dead have risen.

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In my last review of the Ghosts, I questioned their choice of ‘Amerika’ as the opening song. Clearly they’re not having any of my rubbish, though, as they resolutely open with it again. This time the sound set-up is immense – I’m swimming in the noise. Somehow this conveys the song better. You feel the essence of it in your core. Ok, ok, you guys win. I concede that ‘Amerika’ can work to open a set. I mean, I might leave the gig with permanent tinnitus, but it’ll be worth it. Despite the absence of Emily Doyle on bass and backing vocals (Miles Cocker is standing in for her on bass, while guitarists Billy Ollis and Jay Dyer do a sterling job with her vocals), the Ghosts are on top form tonight. Joe Joseph (vocals) is in the zone, Rich Burman (drums) is jiving in the background. Dyer is bringing it, and Cocker is grooving as if it’s going out of fashion. Billy Ollis, as always, is a one-man tornado ripping this house from the ground. We ain’t in Kansas anymore.

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Joseph gives his guitar a whack and a shake, then looks into the crowd. “Thank you so much, brothers and sisters. We are The Hungry Ghosts, Los Fantasmas Hambrientos, and we are here to ruin everything.” They crash into ‘Lazaro’ and the crowd drowns. They go on to showcase their newest song, ‘Jesus Fever’. It is as yet unrecorded, but I can assure you that it has all the gorgeous soaring guitar and dark charisma you crave. They play ‘Super King King’ – a “family favourite” and one of mine too. I never tire of hearing it. It’s truly a hair-raising experience. They finish with their second-newest (and still unrecorded! *Grumble grumble*) song, ‘Shake the Devil’. It’s catchy as hell, although I particularly miss Doyle’s soft voice in this one. She’s here in spirit though, and “sends her love”. They finish on an incredible instrumental. Fabulous, as always.

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Next up are The Lizards, giving a truly unique experience. They describe themselves as “psychedelic”. This is true, but if I had to describe their performance in one word it would be “echoey”. So, so echoey, particularly on the vocal (Dan Whitehouse). It could arguably be too echoey – the effect can make it tricky to understand the lyrics. One thing’s for sure: if you like being crooned at by an alien, The Lizards are perfect for you.

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They showcase a new song, ‘Plastic Dream’, and it makes me feel weird. It pairs structured drums and guitar with long warbling vocals and synth. I have the sensation of being in someone else’s brain while they’re on acid. I’m actually quite enjoying it.

It saddens me to see how much they look at the floor when they perform, and while they give movement it tends to feel forced. I’m unsure whether they lack confidence or whether they’re simply absorbed in their own minds.

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The simple structured rhythms layered with hallucinogenics is a trademark of The Lizards, running though their newer and older work. Their style is definitely growing, though. Their performance of an older song, ‘Houdini’, is great, but I get a much more immersive and visceral experience from their newer work. They finish their set with ‘Showdown’, a perfect finale to showcase their contradictory style. It’s clashy yet echoey, bouncy yet spacey, floaty yet somehow rigid.

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The final act of the night are LICE, bringing satirical art-punk and farmer chic (the latter served up by Gareth Johnson on bass, wearing only dungarees and sunglasses). They smash the life out of the performance, bringing fresh energy with every line. LICE know how to put on a show. In ‘Love Your Island’, Johnson balances his guitar on his thigh and karate-chops the strings. Vocalist Alastair Shuttleworth moves on the stage like a man possessed. In ‘Little John Waynes’ there is an enormous screeching instrumental, and Shuttleworth stares through the crowd as if he sees demons.

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Their most popular song, ‘Stammering Bill’, comes early, announced by a volcanic rumble. They have a simmering energy which lasts the whole gig, and Shuttleworth smashes a high pitched vocal. He uses a speech-type, boyish style which lends itself well to the storytelling aspect of their songs. Unfortunately his mic is a bit on the quiet side, so the crowd miss out on a lot of detail.

They play ‘The Pervert Endeavour’, and you’ve really got to appreciate the amount of texture in their instrumental. They can go from almost relaxed all the way to full spasm in the space of a few seconds. Johnson gives the occasional scream, too. This is a definite positive, as Shuttleworth uses much the same tone throughout the songs. His style is great, don’t get me wrong, but without Johnson’s input it could become samey. If anything I’d like to see them mix up the vocal style a bit further. My favourite thing about them is the instrumental variety on stage, and I’d like to see how experimenting with more vocal variety could work for them.

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We’re treated to a new song, ‘Tour Guide to Bangkok’ – massive high power! Such high power, in fact, that an audience member collapses in dramatic fashion. Shuttleworth sings “I hope that guy is OK!” as he’s carried out. It turns out that he will, in fact, be OK. Phew. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll without a little danger, eh? LICE end on ‘Saccharine’, a short but explosive track. It slices the air – one final slash into the night.

See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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