I‘ve been dreading this.
The last Month of Fridays gig has been circled on my little wall planner for some time now, and I’ve felt a grimace of increasing severity creep onto my chops with every day I crossed off towards it.
Mostly because I’ve really enjoyed these little reviews, and the routine that’s accompanied it. The fifth day of the week has, for an entire month now, meant that I was off to one of my favourite venues in Newcastle, armed with a notepad and some pocket money, to run the rule over some fantastic local, national and international bands. At their best they’ve been a privilege to see, at their worst they’ve at least been an experience.
There was certainly a heightened sense of occasion tonight. Where the last two shows had still brought in impressive crowds, tonight the organisers were not only having to turn people away before the first band had even gone on, but stop a load of chancers, including a member of BBC acting royalty, from sneaking in unnoticed.
Even the summer itself, having apparently thrown in the towel weeks ago, decided to show its face for this one.
Filling the role of supporting cast tonight we had Crooked Hands and Fantasy Rainbow, who presented us with the most interesting paradigm and contrast of two artists I have ever seen. For every point, plus or criticism I can make about one of them, almost the exact opposite is true of the other.
I’ll start, as the evening did, with Crooked Hands, a sombre indie four-piece that consisted of a backing band visibly shrinking next to the Topshop sponsored singer-songwriter they were orbiting around. Kind of like a Mumfordised Matt Cardle.
Introducing himself to us all as Chris, the frontman initially took to the stage alone and, despite his shy and muted mannerisms, unleashed one of the most exceptional voices I personally have ever heard live. The high ceiling of the Cluny 2 makes it, vocally speaking, a hard room to fill, but packing the sort of pipes you could build entire cities on, the young lad opened the night in one of the most impressive fashions of the whole 5 gigs.
Eventually joined on stage by the rest of the band, they then rolled through a cosy set of atmospheric pop picks and processional harmonies. Heading into one of the last tracks, they mentioned that this was only their second gig. If that’s true then they deserve huge plaudits for how much time and effort they must have put into rehearsals, being as they are, one of the most cohesive bands I’ve seen open a show in a very, very long time.
That’s a technical cohesion mind you. In terms of songwriting there was unavoidable feeling that most of the work of the other 3 had been hurriedly tacked onto songs written specifically to be played alone. Understandably so though, as the singer’s guitar work was, when compared to his utterly breathtaking vocals, slightly underwhelming.
In Fantasy Rainbow though, you had the opposite. Toughing the entire set out on his lonesome, we were regaled with frustrated and angst-laced tales of teenage volition that, for all the world sounded like songs written by four or five different people, and then awkwardly scaled down to just one guitar and a loop pedal.
With the Cluny 2 decked out in ribbons and balloons, it felt like we were peering in on someone who, having turned up at their own birthday party to discover that everyone else had forgotten about it, had simply shrugged his shoulders and decided to play his guitar instead.
Where Crooked Hands were drizzled with a sort of faux-melancholic gloss that I suppose stopped me really taking to them, Fantasy Rainbow purvey songs that are infused with a far more sincere youthful vigour. There’s an almost claustrophobic tinge to it all that makes every note sound like it’s coming directly from an adolescent bedroom furnished with Weezer posters and strewn with ticket stubs from Deerhunter gigs. It’s an odd mix of styles that I’m happy to report is pleasantly captivating.
All that was left then, after 5 gigs, 15 artists, hundreds of photographs and thousands of words, was for Let’s Buy Happiness to stroke our hair and sing us softly to sleep. Which of course, they didn’t.
Instead the local five-some mounted their musical steeds and set off in impressively fierce form to put on one of their most accomplished performances to date. Where in the past they’ve been labelled as “lilting”, “quirky”, and even “indie by numbers” by everyone’s favourite pamphlet for middle class 15 year olds The NME, tonight saw them take yet another big stride towards a status as potential North-East musical royalty.
For those of you still unfamiliar with them, you need to imagine four boys, sat in a tree house, putting together songs about how awesome He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is. Meanwhile the girl next door, who tonight had apparently been drawn into a pair of jeans, manages to get a leash around every single of one them and reigns them back to a point where her Bjork-esque vocal charm can slip in almost unnoticed.
New songs were played, thanks were made and, to a man, an entire crowd was slayed. If there had been any worries about these gigs not ending on a high, there needn’t have been.
I didn’t really have what you might call a summer romance this year. But over the last five Fridays, my relationship with these gigs hasn’t been far off.
When first we met, a spellbinding evening as memorable for its splendour as it was for the fuzzy head it left me with, our eyes met across an utterly rammed Cluny dance floor. It had an aura, a scent of uniqueness and charm that quickened the pulse and still had me smiling for days later. Feelings that only intensified when, a week later, we got up close and personal in the far more intimate surroundings of the Cluny 2.
Over the next two weeks though, reality intervened. That fabled honeymoon period ended as the bad weather rolled in, finances became stretched and, for whatever reason, things fell into something of a routine. Line up changes, organisational difficulties, conflicting attitudes, damp squibs; gigs, just like flings, have their issues, but even when put under the microscope like this, things still smelt of roses.
It’s not just that we’ve had a steady series of great bands playing the same venue though, even as these gigs have been going on there have been other, arguably better, line-ups taking to stages throughout the region. But the fundamental problem with live music is that people usually only attend to see a band they’re already familiar with.
Curated by members of NARC, Generator and even tonight’s headliners Let’s Buy Happiness, September has been a brilliant and horizon expanding showcase, curated entirely by people who not only know their shit, but seem to genuinely care about getting people fussed over this sort of thing again. Hopefully when/if something like this returns, people won’t even bother to find out who’s playing, they’ll just turn up knowing it’ll be something worth seeing.
But like all good things, there had to come an end, and with a local band, undoubtably destined for big things taking a well-earned bow, tonight’s was about as fitting as could have been hoped for. Making it five shows that, whilst all totally different in their own right, and never quite being perfect, have been an absolute privilege to have been a part of.
Friday, I’m in love.
By Adam Clery KYEO
Photos: Stephen Noble