Saturday, 29 March 2014

REVIEW: Montague Black at Power Lunches, Dalston 22/03/14

Set List:
    1. Meat on the Bone
     2. Country Girl
      3. Wall [working title]
     4. Bold as a King
      5. Lancelot

Tonight the irresistible draw of a great gig has brought us to the hipster stronghold of London, a place where small music venues litter the main drag from the Junction upwards past the Rio Cinema and into the far reaches of the North like polystyrene boxes with last night’s Lahmacun. ‘This place is fucking miniscule, darling’, comments my companion. ‘It feels like I’m having a Gin and Tonic at my barber shop.’

This isn’t a wildly inaccurate assessment, although saying that, I really like the atmosphere and the generous measures in the discount White Russians served up by staff at the pint-sized Power Lunches on Kingsland Road. Downstairs in the basement bar, everyone is tightly packed in and awaiting the first band onstage at this, the second instalment of the Rebellious Jukebox live music night.

Montague Black is the first band on this evening and, for a support act, they’ve effectively managed to fill the entire space, which is an encouraging start. I’ve seen references to James Chance and ‘skronkish funk’ used in descriptions of Montague Black on the promo posters for tonight, all of which come from the event’s promoters themselves. Both instantly suggest some kind of No Wave sensibility, and/or a penchant for non-musical art-rock dissonance à la Lester Bangs’ 'A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise’, circa 1981.

Indeed, given the pedigree of song-writing in the band – which includes numerous singer/songwriters and musicians of skilled and varied music backgrounds from bands like Hollow and The Palace of Justice – it seems unlikely I’ll be needing those 20p ear plugs being advertised for sale behind the bar.

Soon enough, Montague Black lays into its first song, ‘Meat on the Bone’, something of a mantra for the band and its self-description, and it really does pack a hell of a punch. The seven-piece band dominate the stage both physically and sonically and are clearly well-rehearsed and intuitive with one another. Guitars flank the front of the stage in the form of Nick Fleming (also on lead vocals), Paddy Griffith, James ‘Fullock’ Bullock on bass guitar, and the line-up is completed by Ed Sibley on keys, Alex Philpot on drums and Sam Ebrahim and Ade Akande both on saxophone.  

Indeed, it would be so easy for such an arrangement to feel too complicated and a little unnecessary. However, although the saxophones occasionally aren’t as audible as they could be, wholly owing to the confines of the sound engineering at Power Lunches, all the elements manage to completely hold their own. This is particularly true for ‘Country Girl’, which is the stand-out track for me and which provides the perfect balance of joyous jazz-funk keys and bass-lines, wailing guitar and crescendoing saxophone overtures. There is a smidgeon of dissonance but it’s more of a fleeting tonal quality or a suggestion rather than an abstract or abrasive non-sound.

Saying that, I can confidently state that the James Chance/James White references haven’t been made without good reason. Lead vocalist Nick Fleming is quite the accomplished crooner, though thankfully refrains from hitting people in the audience who aren’t dancing the way that the Contortions’ front man used to.

What Montague Black have achieved is an ability is neatly channel No Wave elements within what is a skilled and highly accomplished song-writing style, carried out with charisma and conviction. This is no mean feat given the danger this might pose of diluting any reference to No Wave into something less authentic, and, I dare say, turning it into ‘New Wave’. However, Montague Black side-step that little pitfall with relative ease and deliver a No Wave inspired sound that nonetheless retains the strong melodic sensibilities of the song-writers in the band, all of whom clearly bring different musical tastes and backgrounds to the table. What’s more, when the saxophones kick in and they marry with the nimble jazz bass-lines and the dance of the electric keyboard, it is hugely satisfying to be able to identify all the instruments in the knowledge that each is being played well and in harmony with all the others.

Overall, it is a compelling and memorable performance from this North London septet and its five-song set ends all too quickly for me and everyone else.

I caught up with the band a few days after their gig at their rehearsal space in North London to find out more. Despite managing to inadvertently speak ill of both the birthplace and current place of residence of one of the saxophone players within the space of about two minutes, it all went rather well.

It soon transpires that every musician in the band plays several instruments at an accomplished level and Nick Fleming admits to populating the band, predominantly whilst inebriated at parties, as an ‘insurance policy’ to avoid being caught out. We discuss the current musical tastes of each member – which lands me a spot of hot water for asking such an annoying question – and Alex Philpot admits to being ‘a slut for music’.

What’s exciting is the band’s grand plans for EPs, music videos and European tours, as well as their loyalty to London, playing live and having fun. 

The bottom line? This is a band that needs keeping an eye on.  I recommend to do just that by following the links below to the band’s Facebook and Soundcloud:

A full version of the interview will be uploaded via BSTV in the next few days!

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