Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, Sat 28 Apr
More than two decades have passed since the emergence of trip-hop, a welcome antidote to the horrors of Britpop, but its influence continues to echo down the ages. This evening, that influence particularly resonates in Esther’s final song, a smoky-jazz-club take on Portishead, though in truth it haunts her whole set. If she can develop a stage persona and presence to match her arresting voice, her live performances will be all the better for it.
Man Of Moon’s vocalist/guitarist Chris Bainbridge is the cousin of Boy Azooga’s Davey Newington – might the headliners using their biggest Cardiff gig to date to give a leg up to a relative prove a misjudged move? Not at all. The Edinburgh duo, fresh from touring with Django Django, are terrific, suggestive of how good Royal Blood could be if they had an ounce of subtlety and restraint, and perhaps some Mogwai and krautrock in their record collection. Set closer, called (I think) Strangers, pulls the same move as Hookworms’ latest album Microshift by taking a step out of the shadows and onto the dancefloor. Turns out nepotism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, then.
Dave Grohl is often cited as the most amiable man in rock, but in Davey Newington he has some serious competition. Newington, like Grohl, has made a transition from drum riser to front of stage – he was the percussive force behind Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon, going under the pseudonym Bongo Fury, when he started to write his own material. It’s a testament to how well he’s gelled with recruited accomplices Sam Barnes, Dylan Morgan and Daf Davies – and a tribute to their talents – that Boy Azooga are very much a cohesive, organic entity, never once seeming like a bedroom project that’s been fleshed out.
Newington has said that debut LP 1, 2 Kung Fu, out on the Heavenly label in June, was intended to be “more like a mixtape or something”, and certainly his excitable kid-in-a-sweet-shop attitude to music is evident during tonight’s hometown show – sometimes even within the space of a single song. Sitting On The First Rock From The Sun, for instance, mutates without warning from placid Jekyll into riff-heavy Hyde. Face Behind Her Cigarette is somehow simultaneously a homage to Nigerian synth guru William Onyeabor, a slice of wonky psych in the vein of Super Furry Animals and an attempt to reimagine Battles if they got loose for once. It shouldn’t work, but it really, really does.
From opening track Taxi To Your Head to Go Out And Raise The Dead, uptempo rocker I Tried To Find It In Books to superb second single Loner Boogie (a stoned Oh Sees ode to being on the periphery of the party), all the signs point to a band primed for lift-off. The gig concludes with a beaming Newington announcing “We’ve had Loner Boogie, now it’s time for Jungle Boogie” and inviting half of Cardiff onto the stage for a joyous, collaborative rendition of the Kool & The Gang classic. A suitably memorable ending to a proper I-was-there show.
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos BETHAN MILLER