Well, suddenly the June dance card isn’t as hectic as originally planned, thanks to Dave Grohl's slight slip off the stage at Stockholm. However, this one was thankfully still on – a potentially very entertaining “Songs Of Praise” evening up at the Vic, featuring headliners The King In Mirrors, the jangle pop brainchild of Rich May, my gig buddy for Field Day a couple of weeks back!
So I headed off up the hill on a sunny Thursday evening, picking Dean up on the way but ensuring we could get there early doors, as Cheltenham reprobates Oui Legionnaires, whom I’d thoroughly enjoyed last time out supporting Nudy Bronque, were opening proceedings. Fortunately they didn’t kick off their set until 9, in front of a disappointingly sparse crowd of their fellow bands and the generally curious. Nonetheless, this was another visually chaotic but musically controlled performance of vim and venom from this spritely young trio of spunkers. A riff-slashing opener which lasted 46 seconds (!) was the precursor of another harsh and abrasive set of off-kilter time signature rhythm, emo-tinged screaming “yelpcore” vocals and hard-rocking, squalling and menacing guitar noise. Rather like early Seafood and …Trail Of Dead partying hard with even earlier Biffy Clyro; or if you prefer, rather like having your ears syringed with tequila then chainsawed off and used as squash balls. “We like insulting crowds”, remarked the bespectacled guitarist, “if you want to see twats in peak caps, go to a hardcore show in Cheltenham!” The fantastically named “Million Dollar Shark Punch”, ironically their most orthodox structured song of the set, a Husker Du popcore fest with fine call and response vocals, was my highlight of a damn fine and uncompromising set, after which I made straight for the merch stand to buy their EP/ t-shirt bundle, following the vocalist’s pleas to purchase said fayre “so we can get home!”
The Hi-Life Companion, next up, were very much the calm after the storm. Lauded by Mr. May, they opened with a languid, violin-embellished opener which recalled Garageland’s hazy, lazy “Nude Star”, then proceeded to play an eminently tuneful set of occasionally 60’s influenced, occasionally thoughtful C86-tinged, jangly pop. An older collective than the openers, they had a more laid back approach to their music and intros (the second number being introduced with, “this may strike a chord with anyone who’s tried to lure international tennis players back to rural locations (!)”), and were a nice juxtaposition to the blistering chaos of Oui Legionnaires, particularly their best number “One Man Team”, and their closer, which had a 60’s Spy/ B Movie feel and featured some nice textural harmonies. All in all, very pleasant indeed…
So, on to the headliners in short order, as seems to be the case for these “Songs Of Praise” nights. “SoP” co-host Ed Dyer introduced The King In Mirrors, making reference to Rich’s dayglo orange Bermuda shirt, but for me it was entirely apposite, as the sunset it depicted reflected the warm, summery vibe of their music. Summery, laid-back melody, cascading rhythms and intricate riffs were the order of the day, with the opening double whammy of “At The River’s Edge” and the tumbling choral drumbeat of “Rolling In The Sun” recalling later-period Teenage Fanclub, albeit with Rich’s more nasal, atonal vocal delivery replacing the Fannies’ honey throated harmonies. Nonetheless, this was still a varied and enjoyable set, with “Your Spell” a creepier, early Cure pastiche with a darker, pseudo Goth vibe, “Catwoman” a heavily 60’s influenced car-chase theme which Dean (as a former mod!) particularly liked, and “Little Voices”, their best number, a Razorcuts-like C86/ DIY backbeat jangle-fest.
The set closer, “Forever” was introduced by Rich as an old Baby Train number, a band he and bassist Jase had featured in some 20 years earlier, and had a heavier, more post-punk, intrigue, after which the by-now fuller crowd enticed Rich and band on for an encore, Rich himself dragging an old friend onstage for some fun and frolics during “Good Friends”. A warm, inclusive way to end a fine set, and indeed a fine night of 3 impressive bands, “Songs Of Praise” once again proving you don’t need to travel to find challenging, entertaining, varied and thoughtful “live” music. I should really get to more of these events…! And even better, no-one fell off the stage!