Monday, 19 February 2007

Live: The Early Years and Wolf & Cub - London

The Luminaire, London
Monday 19 February 2007

It can be tough going from being an established act in your homeland to having to play as an unknown act down the bill on a foreign shore. This wasn’t Wolf & Cub’s first visit to the UK, or even their first gig in the country on this tour, having played the support slot to Wolfmother at larger venues around the UK. Yet trying to get your message across at 8.30pm on a Monday night in London is still a tough ask.

London audiences have the reputation of being hard to please, cynically standing with their arms folded, waiting to be impressed. While this wasn’t the case tonight, there was the bafflement of an audience not knowing quite how to react. The period of Oz music from which W&C draw their antecedents didn’t have an equivalent here so there are no points of reference for an UK audience to draw on. So This Mess ends up sounding reminiscent of ZZ Top, and when they do a Glitter-band style glam-stomp, it recalls Kasabian’s Shoot The Runner.

The two drummers make an instant visual statement, and all is well for their epic opening instrumental. But when Joel Byrne starts singing, there are problems. It’s a small venue, and the drums are virtually unmiked, and it’s hard to work out if the vocals are meant to be audible, or another instrument. It improves as they progress, and a friend who saw them the week before felt that tonight’s gig was a vast improvement. There’s no denying the intent of Tom Mayhew’s iron bass lines, but overall they just seemed to be lacking a certain drive and passion tonight. Or maybe they just seem underpowered, as the band that follows is such as removes the memory of anything that preceded them?

For tonight The Early Years are a revelation; I can barely believe that this is the same band I saw support iLiKETRAiNS last October. For now they are a band of power and intent and innate craftsmanship, and have expanded to a four-piece from the trio that recorded their debut album. There are a few minutes of gentle bleeps, feedback and fiddlings before they launch into All Ones And Zeros, but these have been building up an atmosphere so shivers run down my spine when the bass kicks in. The sound is crystal and sharp, the lighting thoughtful and evocative.

In some ways it’s pure shoegaze - exciting, uplifting and brilliant. The one downside of that style was a tendency for somewhat atonal vocals, yet Brown Hearts shows Dave Malkinson can really sing. There are elements of some early new wave as well; the way the bass lines break out is reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen; while the driving guitar riff of So Far Gone reminded me of the Talk Talk Talk era of The Psychedelic Furs. But theirs is a new spin on this, and they’re very much their own band.

One of the best things that can happen at gigs is when you find yourself grinning inanely at the sheer pleasure of the experience. Even better is when you turn around to see your mate wearing the same dumb expression - it’s joyous and wonderful. Sometimes you’re torn whether to watch the band play, or just close your eyes and loose yourself in the music. The room went whisper-quiet later during Things, and a prolonged applause and cheering provoked a rare genuine and heartfelt encore.

The Early Years is the band that the Secret Machines promised to be but never delivered. And for them this was just one of those special nights where it all came together.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 28 February 2007