Hey Vanity *****
The People The Poet *****
The Black Heart, Camden, Monday 3rd March 2014
Because it's moist and a bit miserable and we've had a damp, squelchy and dour winter, it seems kind of appropriate to run over tonight's acts using a kind of meteorological theme. Just 'cos I can. Count them puns kids.
The People The Poet *****
After an absolutely storming set supporting the wet and disappointing plastic popsters Blitz Kids a couple of weeks ago, I've been looking forward to the next warm front of balmy blue-collar, honest loveliness to bathe my aching bones.
An early slot has pulled a reasonable throng in off Camden's soggy streets as the garrulous and engaging Leon Sanford leads his Welsh wonders onto the pokey stage. Opening with People, the curtain raiser from the stunning album The Narrator, they are instantly into their stride.
Bright and breezy, multi-layered musicianship belies the fact there are only three folk hitting, plucking, picking and strumming these days and fills the room to provide the perfect blue sky for Sanford's growling, seductive and often raw but always soulful crooning. As always, he's aided and abetted by the gorgeous and ridiculously symbiotically tight harmonies of the diminutive will-o-the-wisp Greta Isaac.
Ok, so there's a bunch of technical bad weather and Sanford's Mic packs up mid song early on, but that's a minor shower in what is a deliciously heart-warmingly sunny set crammed fiull of woo-oohs, integrity and soul climaxing in the brilliant Heart Of A Lion which must surely end up on a sporting montage BBC film at some point. Sunny days ahead indeed.
Hey Vanity *****
Next on the weather chart, blowing in from the east are Essex quartet Hey Vanity. All fizz, slickness, power and muscle with Marc Halls' phenomenal vocal range forming the eye of this perfect techporock tornado.
I've been lucky enough to have been caught in this lot's storm on many occasions, but they've seldom sounded better than they do tonight. Always tight, but never clinical or soulless, they mix up breezy, tuneful choruses and refrains with darker, heavier chugs and downtuned blasts.
This is clever but not indulgent; smart but not shoegazing, catchy but not derivative. The lastest single Some May Say is the perfect example of how their sound is developing and, tonight is a tour de force within the twister of a superb set. The outlook is certainly bright.
Straight Lines *****
After the sweet cyclone of Hey Vanity, the clouds darken and the forecast is looking murkier and forboding. Then the clouds burst and a Welsh whirlwind uproots all before it.
With a re-jigged line up (including The People The Poet's guitarist - who apparently is the brother of one of Straight lines, who apparently all went to school together, and chapel, and nursery and Mrs Jones from the corner shop once made them all tea and they all were in the Welsh Bob sleigh team together. Probably. - on bass), it's clear from the outset that Straight Lines have been at the rock and roll steroids.
There sound is heavier and rockier than ever. And much more mature. All Sabbath and Bad Company with Budgie and a smattering of NWOBHM (ask yer gran little 'uns) thrown in for good measure. And it bloody works. Oh yes.
A fierce storm but flecked with accessible melodies and hooks and glued together by Tom Jenkins' incredible and original piercing alto. Older favourites like the catchy pop rock favourite Half Gone are given the leaden skies treatment and sound heavier and more grown up than ever. The Anthemic Ring The Bells is heavier and sounds even more like they really mean it. Accompanying the older tunage are the offerings from the latest excellent self-released Reflect EP which is a heady brew of retro rock and tuneful thunder with the Sabbathy A Hole In The Sky being a particularly blinding blizzard (see what I did there?).
A lively crowd is whipped up into a tidy maelstrom throughout and on tonight's evidence, Wales have another proper rock band to be proud of with enough clear air between them and the radio banal (lazy comparison klaxon ) Sterophonics, the post hardcore vibes of FFAF, greasy metal of BFMV and the onanistic indulgence of the Manics. (Whatever happened to Dopamine?).