Friday, 16 September 2016

1,003 POLAR FRONT, homeplanetearth, Luke DeSciscio, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 15th September 2016

A little clutch of local gigs now to augment my increasingly (and accidentally!) copious Autumn Dance Card, and the first one is a promise kept. After rocking up too late at the Castle to catch Polar Front’s recent Swindon Shuffle set, I spoke with vivacious vocalist Sophie – a friend of my “sister-in-law” Sam – and promised that I’d catch their intriguing sounding band at a later date. Tonight’s “Songs Of Praise” event being the first opportunity to make good on that promise, I determined to catch a band of whom reports suggested a collision between pop accessibility and atmospheric yet punchy electronica-embellished indie. A dreamier Pvris or a female-fronted, poppier White Lies, perhaps? One way to find out…

A baking hot evening so I stuck with the shorts for the drive up the hill. Hit the venue at 8.30 for an entertaining chat with hosts Ed and Dave as usual (“how’s retirement?” If only!), before they rounded up the opener, Luke DeSciscio, for his set at 9. I’d seen him once before, supporting Gaz Brookfield and Lonely Tourist, where his more minimal atmospherics were at odds with the more overt and punker prevailing mood of the night. Tonight, however, he fit perfectly; the opener (“about Stanton Park!”) wove an intricate guitar pattern and a Love “Forever Changes”-esque mood of pastoral melancholy, overlaid by his eerie, octave-changing voice. One obvious comparison could be made to his vocal gymnastics, but it was a valid and wholly appropriate one, as “Vivid Love” saw him deliver a Jeff Buckley-esque haunting quivering quaver over an awed hush of a song, and “To Carry You” (which followed a lengthy re-tuning – “it’s so worth it!” he announced) saw a falsetto chorus so redolent of the great man. I also admired his use of quiet and space to create his atmospheric mood, and his reluctance to compromise his set; intending to play 2 more numbers but having only time for one, he announced, “you know what, I’m done – come see me another time.” Brave boy. Fine set!

Next up were Oxfords homeplanetearth, who apparently were, “bringing tie-dye back – and Star Trek fashion!” announced Ed, making reference to the male vocalist’s shirt and the blonde female vocalist’s glitter make-up and short velveteen dress. Their set also aimed to create a dreamy atmosphere, albeit via more keyboard driven shiny 80’s “Bubbles” style funkier pop which was a pleasant listen, but which bordered slightly on the repetitive and bland for my tastes, like some of Talk Talk or China Crisis’ more throwaway material. A brand new number debuted tonight was a slightly clunky mess, and although a punchier, more upbeat closing number hinted at some promise, for me they’ve got a ways to go to be the finished article. Good luck to ‘em, anyway…

It then seemed that suddenly we were inundated with an influx of punters for the main band! Fans, friends and family, including a few already bedecked in “16916” t-shirts celebrating the Polar Front debut EP for which this was a de facto release party. Ed took the opportunity to address the crowd and exhort them to come see more original “live” music, before Polar Front played “happy birthday” to CD producer and mentor Sam Bates, then after a false start we finally got the gig under way at 10.40. Opener “Saints” was an appropriate agenda-setter; a slow-burn start leading into a thunderous drum-propelled soaring pop hook, powered by some dramatic and resonant White Lies-style indie rock guitar and Sophie’s impressive smoky, soulful late-night vocals. This set the tone for the show; a powerfully played clutch of numbers, all sweeping drama and occasional dark menace, yet with a definite pop accessibility and impressive brain-hugging choral hooks. Like recent Vic hosts The Vim Dicta, in spirit at least, there’s a genre-straddling melting pot of influences here, all melding into their own cohesive identity. “Brother” was a stripped back opener leading to a tumbling drum pattern climax; the unnamed “G#” saw some resonant guitar work from guitarist Perry, and a cover of Destiny’s Child’s throwaway pop number “Say My Name” morphed into a moody, angular torch song epic, capping an impressive and surprisingly accomplished set from such a young band.

Grabbed the list and got it signed (much to the surprise of the band, for whom this might’ve been a first – get used to it, folks!) and chatted with drummer Liam (a son of an old work colleague!) before saying my farewells and heading home for midnight. Definitely more to come from another very promising local band in Polar Front – I’m glad I kept my promise!

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