Friday, 16 September 2011

Behold Van Howling! Hear him roooooaaaaarrrr...

FEED ME at the Hideaway, Thursday 15th September 2011

FEED ME is the latest clubnight to grace the stage of the basement bar at the Hideaway on Junction Road. Taking over from the Killer Blob Promotions nights that are usually held every month at the Hideaway (which are something of a local institution), FEED ME was organised by the members of ghost-swamp rock outfit, Van Howling, who gave the performance of their lives as the headlining act. Compere Mark Tomlinson had the enthusiasm of a small child on Christmas morning, introducing his night and every act with an energy that was contagious...

First on-stage was singer-songwriter and general badass, Eli Cash, whose self-penned punky ditties of 'bad romance' were habitually interspersed by hilarious commentary from Eli herself. Her songs were forthright and honest and hugely enjoyable, her strumming guitar propelling ever song to its often unashamedly bitter end. What was most impressive was the earnest quality of her performance, laying everything down (music and sentiments), warts and all. Apparently, Eli Cash is in some kind of Facebook 'Like' war with someone she knows (and dislikes) so add her page to stay up to date with her activities:!/

Following Eli Cash was Laws of Motion, a four-piece from Bath responsible for some interesting and elegant sound-scapes accompanied by spectral falsetto vocals. The set was varied but structured by extended shoegazey instrumentals, and bar a broken guitar string, the band maintained an atmospheric ambience that was pretty impressive.

Apparently, Van Howling hasn't played a gig in over two months and the only rehearsals its members have had have been completely informal affairs. A CD to follow an earlier three-track EP has been in the works for awhile now and rumour has it that VH has been attempting to translate its incendiary live shows into a fully-fledged record.

If last night's gig was anything to go, the results of this should be hugely exciting. 
Having seen Van Howling play a number of times before, I feel that this was the band's best gig to date. The sound at the Hideaway was fantastic, the rewards of a thorough sound-check that had taken place beforehand. On-stage, it was a very much a DIY sound-job, members of the Palace of Justice sporadically jumping into the sound-booth and fiddling with the dials before re-joining the throngs of fans at the front to heckle for their favourite Van Howling numbers.

And what a set it was, the gothic, Nick Cave-Birthday Party stylings of VH coming through in howling waves of dramatic splendour. Van Howling is original in every sense of the word, presenting 'cheerful songs about death' as frontman Gabriel Balfe has termed them, set against rampant polka beats and latino, carnivalesque rhythms. Van Howling almost reminds me a Victorian music-hall cabaret act - so much so it should become standard to have them perform framed by a red velvet curtain and under a rhinestone chandelier. 

Foot-pedals magnified the psychedelic guitar with shoe-gaze freakouts that added to the richness of Van Howling's songs, underpinned by the trademark pulsating funky bass-lines and superb, energetic drumming that are central to Van Howling. Gabriel is proving to be quite the front-man, shedding his guitar on several occasions to allow room for him to dance and annunciating lyrics with sheer grandiosity, thus lending Van Howling's narratives a sense of pure, Bowie-informed theatre.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get hold of a set-list (and I'm not even sure there was one) but some stand-out numbers included 'Quake' during which the dancefloor at the front erupted into spinning and shimmying, as well as a stripped-down and elegant acoustic version of stellar VH tale of woe, 'Five', during which everyone sat down, VH's John and Julian included, before getting up again for its final crescendo.

Quite simply, it was stunning.

Keep in the loop with VH's future gigs and FEED ME events via the band's Facebook page:

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