Star Scream, The Mars Patrol, Narration, Substatic plus TheRandom

I went along to the Monto Water Rats on Thursday 19 February, to catch Narration again after enjoying their set as support to The Pineapple Thief at The Peel.  It was easy enough to get to once I had got through the mess that is Angel, and I found a parking space nearby.  It’s a cosy venue, the main bar of a pub leading through into the performance area, which is a good size for up and coming bands, with a decent stage and a sound crew who clearly know what they are doing.
The night opened with The Random, but unfortunately I missed their first two tracks thanks to traffic congestion at Angel – which is a huge shame because I enjoyed the rest of their set.  I came in during Moving On, to find a three-piece band featuring electric guitar, vocals and acoustic guitar, and drums.  And a song which had a definite Irish feel to it.  It turns out The Random have been out of action for a couple of years but are back…and looking for a bassist.  They certainly did not sound rusty after such a break, although I was told they expect to be at a far higher level of performance after a couple more gigs.  Let Me In is an upbeat ballad with a nice guitar sound from Tim Eyles, and great, earthy vocals from Mick Beirne, but the real ballad follows on in By My Side, slower, Mick’s vocals are longing, full of emotion, leading us into a glorious slide guitar solo from Tim.  They work really well together, and are held tight by some excellent drumming.  “Tim’s got his little fella out” and they’re into Jiggy With It – a wonderful Irish sound, bouncing along like a…jig !  It’s an instrumental, but Mick promises “we’ll have some words for it next time” – and you can imagine him promising that for years to come, and we will believe him every single time.  If a band does a cover version within their set I expect to hear something different from the original, and they do just that with U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name – it is one of my favourite U2 anthems, and here they give it an upbeat feel, it fairly rattles along with Tim’s little guitar giving it more a celtic feel than U2 managed, and you have to say that this is the type of track which really suits Mick’s voice.  They take the sound desk by surprise and slip in Take What You Want as a final number, and it gives a great indication of their sound.  This is mellodic rock with a sound that takes me through thoughts of The Beatles, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Stereophonics, but they make the sound their own, and it’s a wonderfully light and bouncy number to end their set.  I’m going to be looking out for those next couple of gigs…
So things were nicely set up for Substatic and they took full advantage.  Listed on their MySpace profile as electro/indie/pop, don’t let that mislead you into thinking there might be a lack of substance to this band – very much the opposite.  The melody to Shake Me is very much underlined by a powerful bassline from Alex Holmes’ synth, and while the track might at times be floating along, this only serves to emphasise the snap of the drums cutting in.  Wild Horses begins with a lovely guitar break from Steve Markovits, and the violin sounds from Geoff Wright flow over the top, before the beat from the drums is joined by stacatto sounds from both guitar and violin, synth bursts, a rocking feel, and soft and gentle vocals from Colleen Quinn, which are a wonderful counterpoint to the sharpness of the music.  Next up is a new one, This Is It, a favourite of their drummer, Des Rogers, and it’s ‘just’ synth, drums and vocals for this – and what a sound they produce, a lovely slice of dance electronica, challenging rhythms, and the vocals floating above it all.  The full band are back for Gone, some looping soundscapes from the synths provide a base, and mournful violin comes in over the top of that, then the vocals, melodic guitar, the drums starting the beat, and the track explodes with Colleen’s powerful “Gone”, and we are off with a piercing snare drum, the track is flowing, crashing in waves, moving in phases, wonderful guitar sounds taking us to a powerful climax, but there is no let up as they continue straight into Now Or Never, the synth dominating, but I swear Des Rogers is going to kill that drum kit, the way he’s treating it.  It’s a complex composition with a quirky beat from the guitar of all places, the vocals more strident, drama in Colleen’s performance, and the synth pulse takes us to the end.  Closer gives us some more bass from the synths, blending with a melancholy violin, the drums start to lead us on, accompanied by soft but forceful vocals, there is almost a Beatles feel to the melody being created before the beat takes over.  The track moves upbeat, a great guitar melody, but still that melancholy undercurrent as it reaches a shimmering end.  Substatic work on so many levels – there were people dancing easily to their tracks, while I was taking in the complexities they throw out there, the layers contained within the tracks, the differing emotions being presented by each instrument, and the passion of Colleen Quinn’s performance.  They are going to be well worth another look, and are next performing at The Last Days Of Decadence in Hackney on 12 March.
Narration are up to their old tricks, turning what sounds like a soundcheck into the first track of their set – you can’t switch off for a moment with these guys or you will miss a gem.  Simon Macson’s guitar sound is taken over by Al Oliver’s drums and we are into River, a warm melody from Paddy McNicholas’ keyboards providing substance as the guitar and cymbals build the track, and it is clear that Dan Holt’s voice has gripped the audience immediately.  They build plateaus to spring from, the backing vocals from Simon and Paddy are very noticable, and this grows into an epic before reaching a dead stop.  Pure drama.  The atmospheric opening to Message For The King explodes into a massive sound, Simon playing about with feedback, Al’s drums very strong and keeping us moving, a quiet middle part allowing us to fully appreciate the emotion in Dan’s vocals, and it has built into another epic, an explosion from both guitars, the keyboards again providing the substance to the song, and you have to say that the strobe lighting at this point was inspired.  There is a quiet opening to Wear Your Hair Down, mixing with the basslines coming from the other room, before the song builds in a flurry of guitar and the melody of the keyboards.  It’s upbeat, bouncy but a ballad, pleading vocals as Paddy comes in on bass – anthemic.  Narration certainly know how to construct a song, and they most definitely show they can then execute it to perfection.  Dan’s “thanks for listening” indicates it has finished.  They recorded their first video on Valentine’s Day for their first single, Miracle.  It’s a drum intro with guitar feedback, exploding into guitar riffs before calming, tinkling keyboards over a dark undercurrent, the guitar is brooding, menacing, as the song comes in bursts, with some grandiose keyboard power chords in there, and they continue straight in to Please Show Me The Lights, which is also on the single.  A glorious collection of noises comes together to start us off, Simon using his eBow to great effect, producing an eerie feel, and especially when it mixes with the bass chords from the keyboards.  It starts slow, building gradually, then more pointed, piercing from the keyboards before levelling off, gathering itself, cymbals battling against bass chords, and then the drums are racing into a guitar break, the keyboard providing the melody, the track pauses and then soars, and Narration do like creating these plateaus of sound, but then they need to because we are not talking 3 minute disposable pop songs here.  And the keyboards continue, taking us into New York City, and Dan’s come into the front row of the audience for no reason other than for dramatic effect, as we enjoy just his voice and his guitar, before the drums come in and there is that bass drum sound that U2 have in their slower, quieter tracks, more eBow from Simon to build around Dan’s voice, the melody from the keyboards again, it’s emotional, it’s atmospheric, it’s another epic – this is stadium rock done well, this is Snow Patrol with balls, Snow Patrol with bite, Snow Patrol with direction, Snow Patrol with drums complex enough that they can not be played by a 5 year old (in their sleep).  It crescendos into a climax of noise and Dan exits through the back of the stage, and Simon looks knackered after putting in a stunning performance.  You need to see this band to properly appreciate just how good they are, so get along and see them next Wednesday, 25 February, at the Luminaire in Kilburn.
The Mars Patrol had brought a big, eclectic crowd with them, and a banner and their red trousers.  They look the part up on that stage, and they totally back up that look.  Shake It Up gives us a guitar wall of noise which goes into a riff which reminds me of the Cult’s softer moments, there’s a strong beat, melodic vocals, and a straight forward rock song – brilliant !  There is an immediate feeling of energy, of a passion for what they are doing, and an enjoyment which flows out into the audience.  Audience ?  This is a crowd !  Can I Have You? opens with Stephen Parker’s thumping bass, and he is a tremendous presence on the stage, a great guitar riff on top, and the most wonderful powerful vocals from Davina Divine giving melody as the track rocks along – I’m thinking Gun at this point, and not just because of the Scottish lilt to Davina’s voice.  Enthusiastic drumming from Steve Muncaster take us into What If?, which is off their ep, but this is pure madness, surely – calling for audience participation three tracks into a set ?!  But it’s an upbeat, bouncy number, with a more melodic sound to the guitar, and you simply cannot resist joining in – Davina asks for audience participation and they are eager to be a part of this.  There is a funky intro to Mrs Materialistic, then the drums bite in and it’s a wonderful blend of guitars between Ross Nelson and James Williamson, and the track rocks, the chorus is catchy and again it is an impossible sound to resist.  Then it’s one of their newest numbers, That’s What You Get, a guitar intro with Davina’s vocals, and her voice is easily powerful enough to carry this, and we move into a real toe-tapping ballad, a great sound, and a short respite within a high paced set.  The guitar intro to Hit The Lights takes us into a fast beat and we are off again, bouncing to a track which has an epic feel to it, the music really rocking as the vocals flow over it.  Their sound is tight, a band really working together, enjoying the stage together.  Yeah Yeah has an upbeat guitar sound to start us off, the drums kick in and we are rocking again, the vocals soaring, this is anthemic, this is what they will play when they hit the stadiums, and you can be sure they will work the crowd in exactly the same way when they do – the place is jumping, we’re clapping in the middle section, we’re having fun, the band are having fun, and it’s a great finale to their set.  They are up in Edinburgh in March, but if you want some fun in London then catch them at The Fly in London on 10 April.
Star Scream closed out the night for us with their own brand of alternative rock.  They’ve got that whole sleaze/goth/alternative look, and if that is your taste then the music will not disappoint.  Cover Girl has a guitar laden sound with big drums and some sleaze rock vocals.  The track explodes into a chorus and before we know it Adam Lightspeed is down on his knees for a ripping guitar solo.  There is a big performance going on here, more than simply the music, this is a bigger show than that, and they carry it off.  They have a new album coming out soon and most of tonight’s set is from that album, including the next track, Kill Me Kate, some keyboards on a backing track taking us into a biting guitar sound from Adam, big, flourishing drum strokes from Dom Winchester which threaten to make the track run away from us, but Aoife’s bass holds it in.  The drums rumble, the bass thumps and a great guitar intro leads us into Death Shower Scene (and if you have not already got an image of Star Scream from their track titles, then you maybe never will) – this is upbeat, got some bounce in it, another one which explodes into the chorus, and the violent guitar solo is short, sharp, to the point.  The song moves into a truly massive ending and the consumate showmanship is most appropriate.  Then there is the new single, Rosebud, which certainly made me think of some moments of The Damned – it has a quirky intro sound before we have the guitar waltzing over the bass, in such a rich sound.  Scenester is faster, blasting off, really suiting Adam’s voice, and they really are in their element in a track like this, at the faster pace, rocking along into a catchy chorus, and Adam is on his knees again getting some feedback going, before getting the crowd to join in and we’re rocking out now.  Adam changes his guitar for the last track of the set, and this one has blue leds built into the neck – and Frightmare is dedicated to Gary for his birthday, giving us a guitar riffing intro, rumbling bass, clashing cymbals, moshing down the front, Dom losing a drumstick but recovering well, and it’s a lively end to their performance.

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