Sunday, 24 July 2016

998 MARTHA, The Woahnows, Two White Cranes, Bristol Exchange, Saturday 23rd July 2016


A very recent discovery for me, this lot: with the “Sword of Damocles” of potential redundancy hanging over my head earlier this year, I had neither the financial wherewithal nor the desire to look out for new and intriguing bands. However, oddly enough, when said redundancy was confirmed, I resolved to play “catch up” with a bit of my payout, and search out some new listening material. This particular bunch of young Durham oiks came courtesy of a recommendation from the esteemed Mr. Stuart “Langers”; I liked what I heard on Youtube, and promptly picked up their CDs, including current one “Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart”, finding it an amphetamine-fast rush of joyous and hooky indie pop with overlays of loud and crunchy powerpop guitar, galloping along on a swelling tide of bratty call and response male/ female vocals. As if Seafood were a C86 band, or like a Talulah Gosh on US popcore steroids… either way, enough to not only feature on heavy rotation in the car, but also enough for me to book tix for this timely Bristol gig!

Andy Fenton, being familiar with the band through “Indietracks”, was up for this too, so he picked me up on a sun-drenched Saturday evening for a swift drive down to the Exchange, finding venue and street parking easily and having a drink in the beer garden of the Stag And Hounds next door, declining their invite to join them for their hardcore punk band evening! We then hung around outside the Exchange after getting our entry wristbands, bumping into Bristol friends Kiron and Alison before wandering into this weirdly shaped and early-doors well-attended venue for openers Two White Cranes. A solo girl vocalist/ guitarist for a couple of numbers (one bolshy Rodney Allen-like original, and a cover of The Beautiful South’s “Prettiest Eyes”), she was then joined by her drummer colleague for a swift set of twee, gauche and partly formed indie/ US 90’s college pop, simple and pleasant enough but chronically unrehearsed. “Sorry I keep playing the wrong notes,” she remarked after another bum note, “but it’s part of the charm…” Erm, no, it’s not…

The Woahnows, up in short order at 9.15, were in no mood to fuck about; kicking into a wildly pounding and amphetamine fast rocking opener recalling Annie Christian, this young trio (featuring a replacement bassist called Matt, who kept announcing, “I’m Phil Randall!”) kicked into overdrive with a snappy set of Mega City Four/ Senseless Things frantic strumalong pop, often featuring songs which started fast and got faster! A new number (“Cold” on the set-list, but featuring a soaring hook of, “best defense/ best of friends”) was easily their best one, a rampant slice of post-popcore with an anthemic chorus, and they then brought Dan from Martha onstage for a cover of one of the headliner’s numbers! Promising stuff overall.

A swift 20 minute turnaround saw Martha take the stage at 10 in front of a rammed and enthusiastic sellout young crowd. Three scruffy indie boys and a female bassist with hot pants and a Minnie Mouse vocal delivery, they were also “on it” from the outset, guitarist Dan belting into the strident, in your face opener “Christine” and the equally breathless “Ping”, next up. Said female bassist Naomi suggested, “the crowd’s well organised in height order, but take a look around [so everyone can see],” before she took turns at lead vocals for the chuntering 6th form angst of “1997, Passing In The Hallway”. One key feature of Martha’s performance, in fact, was that all 4 members took turns at lead vocals, with Naomi’s vocals flippant and haughtily detached, Dan and other guitarist Jonathan both echoing the high-pitched, yearning and passionate vocal delivery of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carraba, and even drummer Nathan getting in on the act. Nathan also featured the best line in song intros (“this songs about when you’re young, you’re not conservative then you get more conservative as you get older, then when you’re older still you’re not conservative at all – what’s that about?” being an entertainingly rambling example) as well as his utterly judicious bass drum message “I miss EU, I’m lonely”, echoing Martha’s song of the (almost) same name, the number which in fact (following my set highlight, a superb penultimate “Curly And Raquel”) concluded their swift and tremendous 45 minute set of amped-up powerful, tight and punchy indiepop.

A couple of equally frantic encores saw a fine performance to a conclusion, and I briefly congratulated the band on our way out, before a trip home delayed by an accident right on our M4 junction. Nonetheless, a superb evening out in the company of a buoyant and hugely promising new band. Good shout, “Langers”!

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