Last January, Pom Poko brightened the dark, dank depths of the miserable post-festive lockdown by releasing “dizzyingly uninhibited, delightfully odd” second album Cheater. A year on, and the Norwegians are here to lift the spirits once again – this time in person, in Cardiff on the first night of a UK tour at the start of Independent Venue Week. “Are you OK?” asks Ragnhild Fangel with a broad grin. “We are OK.”
Spotted by chance on stage in Oslo by Simon Raymonde and promptly signed to his label Bella Union, Pom Poko are eccentric enough to give pop-punk kids kittens, but neither are they math-rock nerds, given their preference for snap changes of pace over obscure time signatures, as well as their irrepressible joie de vivre. Flitting between sweet serenity and frenzied noise, their songs are nursery rhymes reinterpreted by Deerhoof, or what the Cardigans might have sounded like if they’d ever discovered Melt-Banana.
You could focus on Martin Tonne’s astoundingly inventive guitar playing, but that would do a disservice to a rhythm section comprised of Ola Djupvik and Jonas Krovel, who – in their unidentifiable Sunday league green football shirt and shorts, headband and Mountain Dew T-shirt, respectively – look like they’ve dressed themselves for PE from the lost property bin. And then there’s Fangel and her 50-megawatt smile, radiating warmth in the midst of the firework display.
Like A Lady sees Pom Poko playing it straight (by their own standards), and Time from new EP This Is Our House slots easily into the set, but it’s the last few songs where they really come into their own. I doubt when they wrote cowbell-heavy crowd-pleaser Crazy Energy Night that they had a Monday evening in January in mind, but it works a treat – as does Andy Go To School’s exhortation to “clap your hands and everybody get down!” Better still is If U Want Me 2 Stay, which initially confounds expectations by actually finding a groove and riding it before descending into complete Lightning Bolt chaos.
If, as IDLES would have us believe, joy can be an act of resistance, then Pom Poko are on the front line fighting the good fight.
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, Mon 31 Jan
words and photos BEN WOOLHEAD
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