Yonaka, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 3 June 2019

This show had been sold out for months, third time at the Portland for Brighton-based quartet Yonaka; this time with their acclaimed debut album just released.
First on was Los Angeles musician tiLLie, a multi-talented singer/songwriter and instrumentalist. Opening song ‘Save Yourself’ was a high-energy stomp with a pace that she sustained through most of her set, eventually overcoming the polite inertia of the Cambridge audience. With a live drummer, backing tracks and her own guitar playing she powered through new ‘Loud Mouth’ EP, lacing her set with occasional pauses for anecdote and reflection on tracks like ‘mood swings’. There was a cover of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Whole Wide World’ was an anthem for empowerment then ‘Good Song’ and ‘Loud Mouth’ restored the full pop punch to her performance.

The Ninth Wave were more of an enigmatic prospect; their keyboard and guitar driven first song ‘This Broken Design’ was a revelation as the eighties-influenced production coupled with the richness of the voice was suddenly boosted as one guitarist became full-on drummer to propel this song into the stratosphere. With the quartet hailing from Glasgow it would be difficult to not make the connection with brilliant fellow Scots The Twilight Sad on a track like this but they have many more facets to their sound too. With male and female lead vocals combining fluidly on many songs and strident keyboard lines pushing the sound along the vitality and passion were infectious. Excellent set!

I had never seen Yonaka before, but two songs in and it was clear that the faithful had turned out in force – the confident foursome are at that cusp of live perfection when the tour venues are intimate, sold-out and bursting with atmosphere, as a prelude to even bigger things. Singer Theresa Jarvis is an electric stage presence and the band successfully bridge the gap between indie sensibility and tight full-on rock, with an excellent sound mix that showcases the skill of the players.

‘Bad Company’ is the first track on their debut album and tonight sets the agenda for a relentless onslaught of tight, noisy rock bursting with class, style and ideas. Often the quieter passages give way to monster crashes of full-band action, as in ‘Creature’ but there are also more thoughtful moments such as an acoustic version of ‘Guilty (For Your Love)’ and the mental health awareness messages that went with LP title track ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’.
Many in the crowd seemed to know most of the words and sang along to all the nuances, in thrall to the fun commands from Theresa; I don’t think I have ever seen a whole Portland audience crouch to the floor and jump in unison. I missed the track by the band that I first heard ‘Own Worst Enemy’ but there were plenty of other coruscating nuggets of gold throughout this compact, well-structured set.

Go and see them – it will be in a much bigger venue next time….

https://www.facebook.com/weareYONAKA/
https://theninthwave.online/
https://www.whoistillie.com/


(photo by @KimJonHill)

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Amethysts, Strawberry Fair, Cambridge, 1 June 2019

The Strawberry Fair – Cambridge’s highly regarded free festival of music and culture is a platform for a huge range of talented acts, many drawn from the local area. Featuring on the Cambridge 105 stage on this still and warm evening, Amethysts are two performers who continue to build a following for their interweaving of ambient, atmospheric electronics with sublime pop sensibilities.

Opening track ‘Stones’ sets up a sparse but smooth rhythm pattern as keyboard loops and embellishments are added by the duo. Creative live guitar parts played by Simon complement the brilliant voice of singer Clarice. ‘How It Is’ has an infectious chorus and some neat vocal harmonies to add to the atmospherics.

Early single ‘My Love’ has now amassed one million streams with its heartfelt lyric and subtle melody. As it was a festival audience the band played a cover; ‘Dreams’ is not my favourite Fleetwood Mac song but there is no doubt that they did justice to the longevity and classic status of this much-loved track with a restrained, echoing instrumentation and powerful vocal.
Recent single ‘Imitate Me’ is more uptempo with some busy percussion loops then the closing ‘Alone’ built up from a distant horizon of sound into a glorious finale with an impassioned emotional message and some bold pulses of electronic punctuation.

As the sun went down the band’s enigmatic and graceful set drifted away over one relaxed corner of the festival site…

(Amethysts will be appearing at The Blue Moon, Cambridge on 27 September 2019)

https://www.weareamethysts.co.uk/a-b-o-u-t

Pip Blom, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 29 May 2019

The sold-out venue was already nearly full when delayed arrivals Holiday Ghosts hit the stage. The four-piece were straight in with some rowdy surf rock, introducing an excellent set that was always unpredictable but ultimately satisfying; a bit like the Velvet Underground’s first album. With acoustic guitar giving the rhythmic pulse for some sixties-style lead guitar stylings and the versatility of three lead vocalists to alter the texture of the songs they drew mainly on tracks from their recent album ‘West Bay Playroom’.
This included the good rock’n’roll advice of ‘Take Heed’, the barely-contained anarchy of ‘Slipstream’ and the warmth of ‘Human Race’. I liked the way they stood in a semi-circle, maintaining a tight sound as the guitars sparked off the busy bass and drums.

Pip Blom and her band have a new album out; ‘Boat’ is a strong collection of relentless indie rock, with tonight’s opening song ‘Tinfoil’ setting the pace with its abrasive bold metronomic beat. More familiar song ‘I Think I’m in Love’ has a great catchy chorus and notes that bend while ‘Hours’ is a stealthy treat.

New single ‘Ruby’ continues to grow in stature and went down very well in the Portland tonight. Pip told the receptive crowd it was their first time in Cambridge and looked genuinely pleased with the reaction they were receiving. ‘Come Home’ is a sparser, darker slow-builder that stays lodged in your brain and ‘School’ is a loose dissonant groove that is over too quickly.

All this builds to the show-stopping double header at the end; ‘Daddy Issues’ and ‘Pussycat’ show the four musicians at their best, especially the brilliant drummer driving the point home at maximum energy as she had for the whole set. The well-structured set left no need for encores tonight; there was no doubt that this band make a great noise and impact, with the quality of musicianship and song writing shining through.

https://www.pipblom.com/
https://holidayghosts.bandcamp.com/

Psychic Lemon : Live at the Smokehouse, LP released May 2019

Recorded at The Smokehouse, Ipswich’s venue for the discerning listener and pursuer of truth and authenticity in music, here is a new live album from Cambridge-based Psychic Lemon.
This consists of three tracks from their second album ‘Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay’ (see review below) and two new tunes. The band have dispensed with vocals on this live performance, distilling their psychedelic onslaught into its purest form.
This is clear from the opening ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’; as the guitar effects go crazy in the first minute like an ending to the track instead of the beginning, but fear not! the drums and bass lay down their groove and propel the sound along at a mighty pace for all of its ten minutes.

Straight into ‘Satori Disko’, a more mellow-ish, languid offering with a looping guitar figure and some extravagant cymbal smashes as the bass spans the octaves. There is a conventional guitar solo too to tempt the palate. Favourite track of mine ‘Hey Droog’ is driven by a pounding drum pattern with some dark choral sounds adding an atmosphere of doom. Like all of their live performances, the music seems to take on a life of its own, the band merely servants of the greater cause.

New track ‘Jonny Marvel at the Milky Way’ is a pastoral interlude, like an instrumental from mid-period Pink Floyd the keyboard provides the texture for grand guitar experimentation over an unhurried rhythm backing. As the atmospheric colours fade away, the finale bursts in; ‘White Light’ is a frenetic work-out – a high energy end to an immersive and impressive performance with the music firmly embedded in the walls of this excellent venue.

http://www.psychiclemon.co.uk/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/01/01/psychic-lemon-frequency-rhythm-distortion-delay-cd-released-january-2018/

The Specials, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 12 May 2019

A return to a sold-out Corn Exchange for the The Specials, as part of an extensive tour to celebrate 40 years of the band.

Accompanying them on all the dates are The Tuts, an excellent indie-pop power trio from Middlesex. Opening with the sublime ‘Let Go Of The Past’ they immediately blast the audience into submission, the guitar and bass intricacies building towards the life-affirming chorus. ‘Tut Tut Tut’ is their self-narrative band manifesto with the purest of hooklines. ‘Dump Your Boyfriend’ is a deceptively uplifting pop single but with a darker message ‘…he took my liberty away…he clipped my wings so I stay…. I’ll leave it off for another day…’. Main singer and guitarist Nadia trades vocal lines with bassist Harriet while drummer Beverley lays down the foundation for these many-sectioned songs. ‘1982’ is a blast, then a Clash cover and final song ‘Back Up’ descends into tuneful anarchy. Earlier in the set Nadia describes how they have got this far with no label, management etc resulting in the highly-regarded album ‘Update Your Brain’ and these blistering and fun live shows.

Last seen in Cambridge in 2016, The Specials opened their set with the apocalyptic ‘Man at C & A’ then it was the double glory of ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Do Nothing’ that set the crowd alight. In front of a backdrop of placards and protest slogans the three original band members are all focal points; Lynval Golding’s rhythm guitar and trademark vocal interjections, Horace Gentleman running around the stage and playing possibly the loudest and most spot-on bass I have heard in the Corn Exchange for years and, as ever, Terry Hall’s vocals and presence are the core of the band. Newer songs like ‘Vote For Me’ slot in effortlessly and the re-birth of ‘The Lunatics’ is a welcome and topical addition.

As well as DJ-ing between sets, special guest Saffiyah Khan delivers her powerful ’10 Commandments’ to a heavy-echoing and unpredictable backing. Wow. There are no low points in the set, all the old songs sound as fresh as could be, especially the tense and taut ‘Blank Expression’ and the bleak humour of ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘Nite Klub’ (about to be re-recorded by The Tuts?).
They ended with ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ before a reggae instrumental encore then finally the thoughtful closer of ‘You’re Wondering Now’. Maybe we missed ‘Ghost Town’ a bit but instead there were so many new and old gems in this show by a band who seems to have the momentum and energy to keep them going forever….

https://www.thespecials.com/
https://thetuts.bandcamp.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/11/16/the-specials-corn-exchange-cambridge-11-november-2016/

Sleaford Mods, Junction J1, Cambridge, 10 May 2019

A fourth visit to Cambridge for the headliners, playing to a sold-out crowd.
John Paul opened the show with a short set of sharp observational punk poetry, with backing recorded on his phone. ‘Glasshouse Street’ was a key track, describing the Nottingham thoroughfare in vivid detail over some twisted lounge music. He quickly drew the early arrivers at the venue into his world; getting an encore then leaping the stage barrier to meet the audience.

After being main support for 30 shows so far on this tour, LIINES have cemented their reputation as one of Manchester’s premier exports. This power trio were a revelation – with a sharp Rickenbacker bass sound to die for, spicy guitar, an abrasive but yearning voice and a drum style that minimised cymbals blurring the beat in favour of rock-solid pulses driving the point home. The finished sound is tight and tense and many of the tracks were taken from their impressive 2018 debut album ‘Stop-Start’. Hypnotic, dynamic and hugely impressive this was their first time in Cambridge, but after the mighty reception they received I am sure they will be back soon.

Sleaford Mods
have their own genre, a unique combination of social comment, observation and bleak comedy set to infectious beats. Tonight they were on top form from the off, as the stealthy deep riff of ‘Into The Payzone’ filled the venue and Jason Williamson launched into his vocal salvo.
‘Flipside’ is an unrelenting lyrical tirade ‘….Graham Coxon looks like a left wing Boris Johnson….’ and the bizarre narrative of ‘Stick In A Five And Go’ is a bass-driven sing-along crowd favourite. ‘Kebab Spider’ has the killer hookline ‘…Who knew?…’, as does ‘T.C.R’ ‘…total control racing!…’ but it is ‘B.H.S’ which really hits home, linking personal disintegration to the demise of the much loved retail chain.
All of these words are underpinned by Andrew Fearn’s sparse and incisive instrumental tracks – he switches them on and stands back, no pretence at manipulating and enhancing the sounds – after all they are already perfect. Bobbing around with a bottle of beer and off-mic vocal backing he is a affable stage presence, reflecting and contrasting with Jason’s dance moves and compelling voice.
The surreal bitterness of ‘O.B.C.T’ (Oliver Bonas Chelsea Tractor?) was the doom-laden end to the main set but the duo returned for more including the familiar paranoia of ‘Tarantula Deadly Cargo’.
They have a vast back catalogue to draw on and we certainly got some of the best of it tonight, including many highlights of recent album ‘Eton Alive’. The minimalist stage presentation focusses attention on the music and makes the whole experience brilliantly unmissable!

https://sleaford-mods.myshopify.com/
http://www.weareliines.com/
https://www.facebook.com/JohnPaulNoFILTER/

Honeyblood, Junction J2, Cambridge, 1 May 2019

FEET are a five-piece happy band formed in Coventry, with an addictive amalgam of up-tempo Blur, the bizarre unpredictability of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the louche grooves of Fat White Family ( whose last single was called ‘Feet’??). Behatted lead singer Jeep has some neat dance moves and the two guitar, bass and drums bring alive such delights as the rant of ‘Petty Thieving’ and the gloriously funky new single ‘Ad Blue’, a sort of homage to water? with a spaghetti western video and surreal lyrics (‘….you left me solo at the empty silo….‘).
Final song ‘English Weather’ is an evocation of the horrors of a bad summer in the UK (‘…you’d better pack an umbrella…‘). Without analysing too much, we and they all had a good time and together look forward to their debut album in August, ‘What’s Inside Is More Than Just Ham’…

I last saw Honeyblood in the intimate confines of the Portland Arms (https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2014/09/25/honeyblood-portland-arms-cambridge-24-sept-2014/) and as then they arrive on stage making an immediate impact. The current incarnation of the band has songwriter/guitarist Stina Tweeddale augmented with bass and drums to make a spectacular full power-trio sound.

About to release their third LP the band have a shimmering collection of gems to draw on, from the opening blast of ‘Sea Hearts’, the wistful older track ‘Biro’ and one of the highlights of the set ‘The Third Degree’. This recent single is the Honeyblood sound distilled to its pure essence; a stark, sparse track with a killer hookline and a stunning performance of the biting lyric.

‘(‘I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here’ is a love song of sorts for Glasgow while ‘Super Rat’ makes the narrator’s negative feelings about a relationship very clear. ‘Killer Bangs’ is a punk blast dedicated to two young fans in the front row and then current single ‘She’s A Nightmare’ is a stealthy, dark treat (‘…I follow her down the darkest path, I’m a dormouse and she’s a cat…’).

‘Ready For The Magic’ rocks out to end this excellent set, preparing us for the forthcoming album ‘In Plain Sight’, due on 24th May…
https://www.honeyblood.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/FEETbandUK/