Another sighting of this very promising new indie rock band Sundara Karma tonight then, this time in the more natural surroundings of a sold-out hometown Uni gig! After releasing their debut album “Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect”, things have ballooned for these young Reading boys, the subsequent tour completely selling out, demonstrating a bit of the dreaded “hype” might actually be a good thing... Good thing too that I’d acted quickly, having secured tix for this one before even having seen them do their in-store show last month at Marlborough’s Sound Knowledge. In on the ground floor, me!
So I took an early drive down a slow (and apparently animal-infested!) Sunday night M4 to Reading, following my directions to the University and getting a little lost on campus, eventually parking up around the back of the venue. Openers Palm Honey were already onstage when I arrived at 20 past 7, playing some knockabout indie/ Britpop with a nasally slurring vocalist doing his best Lou Reed impressions. Generic and unremarkable overall, but a damn sight better than main support Will Joseph Cook; a bleached blond and Hawaiian shirted chap fronting a band churning out some insipid and diluted white boy 80’s funk, which oddly went down a storm with the very young Sundara Karma massive (which also consisted of a number of first year Uni canoodling couples – Sundara Karma is for lovers, it seems!). Was there a Hipsway revival and did I sleep through it or something?
With little in the way of substantial supports to distract me, I surveyed the scene; I’d initially thought this a new venue, all shiny white décor and all, but further inspection revealed that this was indeed the same Reading University hall of yore. If I concentrated hard, I could just visualise Johnny Marr on that stage, contemptuously flicking the “V”s at the crowd, as The Smiths stalked offstage following some nasty spitting from the audience. Was that really 33 years ago this month? Wow.
I followed a couple of determined looking girls into the milling throng, pitching up a couple of rows from the front, stage right for a decent view. Some pre-gig party music got the kids in the mood, and the onstage décor underlined this too; a silver glittery backdrop looked onto a stage set-up littered with huge balloons. Party time! The lights eventually dimmed and the band coolly sauntered onstage at 9 to a girly rap number, kicking into the strident guitar burst and lugubrious, drawled opening verse of “A Young Understanding”, and the place went utterly batshit!
As I’d mentioned, I’m a little concerned that Sundara Karma are the latest recipients of the dreaded “hype”, as for me they have more to offer than the Catfish 1975 Blossoms and their homogenised leather-jacketed ilk. Killer hooks, for one… “Olympia” seethed with droney indie urgency before dovetailing into a strident “Young Hearts” chorus, recalling War On Drugs, and after blond, pretty-boy vocalist Oscar Pollock noted the crowd’s enthusiasm with “Reading – that’s pretty fucking mad!”, “Freshbloom” featured a short pregnant pause which morphed into a soaring and shimmering shoegaze outro. Pollock himself was the focal point of the Sundara Karma attack, abandoning his guitar during “Hustle” and diving into the mosh, and generally recalling Suede’s excellent Brett Anderson with his teasing, coquettish stage persona. While the mid-set section sagged a little for me – the perils of stretching one album into an hour-long set, perhaps – it roared back with a stellar “She Said”, the irrepressibly bouncy hook of the first great pop song of 2017 even getting this old boy bouncing along in the mosh. The most Arcade Fire-like number of their oeuvre, “Happy Family” finished the set, entering like a backwoods campfire singalong then melting into a creepy death march with the requisite huge chorus, ending an overall whip-smart 50 mins set. Final encore “Loveblood”, an urgent, Marion-like high-octane rocker, finished proceedings, before I grabbed a list and headed out.