Holy Hail, Friendly Fries, and Stricken CityEdit this event
There’s a snap in the air tonight, but nothing stops the well-coiffed and just-tatty-enough hordes from turning out for a throw down in the glamorous art deco surrounds of Bloomsbury Ball room.
Billed ‘As another night of unparalleled musical excellence and festive debauchery’, DiS certainly feels like the backdrop is set when stepping into the immaculate Ballroom. No grotty floors, stained walls and faulty plumbing here. Everything is instead clean lines, period fixtures and stylish seating. If only all venues could look this impressive. And the bold and the beautiful apparently comes with the venue, because the room is filled with nobody but the stylish for a night put on by Be, who’ve been wandering a bit since the closure of the Proud Galleries in September, and the boys from Adventures Close to Home. Two Camden stalwarts who’ve been bringing a bit of the glam back to typically indie ghettos over the past few years.
It’s girls versus boy tonight and first up on the bill is Stricken City. Fronted be Rebekah Rah, this London four-piece make a bold stand for intelligent, left-of-centre guitar pop, and they do it with brilliant style. Bringing to mind bits of Kate Bush and early Siouxsie, Rah is a sight to behold as she leads her band in crafting a noise that bodes of incredibly promising things to come. This is a band to watch.
Led by former Fanny Pack member Cat Hartwell (come on, you remember ‘Camel Toe’),* Holy Hail *are another indie electro quartet from New York. Embracing the kind of gritty stripped-back beats most expertly used by The Gossip and featuring half-spoken, half sung duets between Hartwell and keyboard player Kevin Cooke, the band at their absolute best, like on ‘County Fair (Part Two)’, are like a post-modern Sinatra and Hazelwood, reared on a love of hip-hop and early New Order. The idea is possibly brilliant, but unfortunately the great moments are far and few with snippets of smart melody frequently getting lost in the mix.
Bring on the indie testosterone, then, with St Albans’* Friendly Fires*. Fresh from a summer that saw the group’s post-punk derived dance-rock leave a favourable impression among many a festival goer, the band’s star certainly seems on the ascent in ‘08 with new single ‘Paris’ (reviewed next week on DiS). The crowd eat up every whack of the cowbell and vocals reminiscent of a Simon Le Bon reared on hardcore. Yet, no matter how much the band stress their love of dance, the one thing clearly evident tonight is that Friendly Fires are, for better or for worse, a pop band through and through. If accessible anthemic pop is your musical tipple of choice, then this lot are sure to please; but if you’re looking for something to challenge and push your conceptions of where guitar-inflected dance music can go, then you’d better look elsewhere.
And then we come to the headliners. Mystery Jets are met with a roar before launching into their increasingly polished pop. Maybe it’s their long months of touring, or maybe it’s their recent recording work alongside indie-dance king Erol Alkan, but any of the quirky sensibilities that resulted in the word ‘prog’ being affixed to the band have apparently been ironed out. New and old songs blend one into the other in a manner that, while hard to fault, rarely does much to truly engage. It’s only when the band break out older songs like _‘The Boy Who Ran Away’ _that things move beyond the realm of by-the-numbers and a glimmer of brilliance peaks its head out from behind the technically accomplished curtain.
Was it truly a night of unparalleled musical excellence? Eh… not exactly, but the promised debauchery certainly made up for any shortcomings.