Another late addition to my Spring Dance Card, and another one courtesy of my old gig buddy “Beef”, who last Friday casually mentioned I should check this lot out, whilst texting about our Mercury Rev tix. So I did, via a couple of YouTube videos (how on earth did I ever find new bands before YouTube?? Oh, the (now non-existent) music press, that’s right…), and he was right again; here was another band right in my musical wheelhouse, with some intriguingly haunting post-punk rockist guitar-led sonics, overlaid by some strident and purposeful female vocals. Picked up the new album (released that day!) and grabbed tix for this one before it sold out, and another journey of discovery was on the cards…
Beef picked us up early, to compensate for the painstaking circumnavigation of the building site that central Bristol has suddenly morphed into, and we parked in the Thekla car park, walking over the temporary bridge and hitting the venue just before doors. The rope came down and we wandered upstairs for the first act of a packed evening, introduced by the impossibly long legged vocalist as, “we’re Towers and this is our last gig!” Such was the case, the guitarist apparently going off travelling, so the 3 girl, one hefty drummer bloke combo were onstage for the final time. Their songs were intriguing, challenging and very proficiently delivered, invariably easing in, all pretty and pastoral, before gaining teeth, diverting into more angular and strident math-rock or heavy funkier interludes, topped with some impressive choral harmonies from the girls. And vocalist Jay Parker was quite the star – relaxed and charismatic onstage with no little humour (referring to her top’s ridiculously plunging neckline with, “really sorry if a tit pops out, I didn’t think this outfit through…” and later commenting, “this is the part where we usually plug, but we’ve got nothing… so how was your day?”), she also possessed an excellent voice, covering strident/powerful and coquettishly demure equally proficiently. Penultimate number “Restart” had a harsh, melancholy edge, whilst closer “Follow” was their most conventional indie-pop number. I’ve seen much worse vocalists in much bigger venues, so it would be a shame if Jay were lost to music, but if this is it, they certainly went out in style.
Fossette, next up in short order as the front filled up, were a very Welsh and very confident, almost flippant 4-piece with high buttoned-up shirts and a decent line in initially fast paced indie jangle with Summery choruses, overlaid later with some knockabout and jaunty Britpop. Massive Kurt Cobain fans, apparently, although I heard no trace of the Nirvana frontman’s influence in their music, and clearly their own biggest fans at this stage, they were entertaining but flimsy, and much less original than the openers, with Arctic Monkeys/ Miles Kane influences blaring out like belisha beacons. Ironic too, that a comment about Donald Trump (vocalist: “can we get a middle finger for Donald Trump?”; wag in the audience: “at least he’s bringing people together to hate somebody!”) got the best reaction in their set…
Proper rammed and uncomfortably hot by now, but we secured our spots near the front and chatted to fellow punters – oddly enough mainly older chaps like Beef and myself! – while Desperate Journalist set up, vocalist and apprentice ice queen Jo Bevan passing time by lying on the stage floor... All done, then just a quick, “hi,” from Jo and they were off, straight into opener “I Try Not To”, a powerful, potent rocker with Jo’s strident, dynamic yet reined-in vocals to the fore, driving the song to its climax. Great opener, and “Happening” kept apace whilst subtly changing mood into more eerie, gloomy proto Goth territory, and a haunting “Hollow” continued this, with some excellent guitar work underpinning a massive chorus.
Riding on the coattails of similar post-punk, black-clad female fronted bands this lot may be (Savages and Wolf Alice spring to mind here), but there’s a lot more layers to the Desperate Journalist sound. A haunting and shimmering Belltower-like riff here, some Chameleons or Bunnymen atmosphere there, some X-Mal Deutschland strident Goth elsewhere… even some Smiths-esque song construction (particularly in “Why Are You So Boring?”). And Jo herself is a riveting “live” presence; slightly built, cropped of hair and top, and with at least 50% of her face taken up by her eyes, she resembles Deena Pilgrim from the “Powers” comic books, but projects herself like a young Morrissey, doubling over her mic-stand, balancing a powerful, passionate and yearning delivery with the right amount of detached insouciance. Very impressive.
The anthemic “Lacking In Your Love” ceded to an epic, widescreen “Be Kind”, before a balls-out, pedal to the metal rocker “Cristina”, then the lengthy denouement of closer “All Over” rounded out a breathless and breathtaking set as good as I’ve seen from a new band in… ooh, ages! They squeezed offstage through the impressed throng, returning for a more plaintive “Radiating”, delivered by Jo and guitarist Rob; then Jo announced, “if you can tolerate more, we have more…” before a joyful, looped-riff powered “Resolution”, probably my highlight of the night, and finale “Organ”, featuring some startling primal screaming from Jo, closed an astounding and outstanding set. Much more powerful and overtly dynamic than on record (where they’re pretty hot socks there too!), this set was a clear and serious statement of intent from a powerful and important new voice and band.
Caught our breath, then went around grabbing signatures for my list and spraying compliments around to all and sundry. Mentioned my thoughts on the Morrissey comparison to Jo, who replied, “now you’re going to make me cry a bit… I’m a little bit obsessed with The Smiths…” Good spot there then! Hit the road for some not-as-painful-as-feared M32 roadworks diversions and a midnight arrival home, eulogising about Desperate Journalist with Beef. One thing’s for sure, we won’t see them in a venue that small again… I can’t see anything holding them back!