It’s unfortunate, but it’s a sad fact that if a man is a little shorter than his friends and possesses a slightly chubby face, any confidence from him will come across as smugness. Jonathan Higgs suffers from this affliction, every “Thank you!” and “Cheers!” he utters dripping with a sweaty veneer of self-congratulatory pride, glances back at the other band members seeming to say, “We’ve got this audience eating out of the palm of our hands!” Which, it must be said, they do. They’re impossible to pin down, ‘rock’ not even scratching the surface of what, at times, can be baroque indie meeting prog madrigal chanting.
They begin with low lighting, Higgs being a Pulp-at-their-darkest conduit with ‘Undrowned’, a moody chill cleverly created. ‘Querty Finger’ follows, a little less difficult, a little more accessible. We love them for their difficulty though, for their guitar solos that make no sense at first, stratospheric music of the future and for the tongue-twisters that Higgs has cursed himself with having to perform at high speed. ‘Torso of the Week’ showcases the madness perfectly, as he rants like a madman in a padded cell against the cacophony of machine-like drums, his unholy choir pull it all together. The four-piece are classically trained, and with a very loose concept of what pop actually is, the three singers sing as if passing judgement from on high, their baroque harmonies wrong and somehow terrifying. A very laid back version of ‘NASA Is on Your Side’ is pretty in an appropriately spacey way, creating a floating vibe straight from the blissed-out early ’70s.
On the whole, it probably is indie, a sound that many other bands are trying to replicate but without the chops to back it up, the auctioneer speed of delivery or the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Would many other acts think to sample cello on ‘Duet’? Their flirtation with hip-hop is also a draw, ‘Kemosabe’ raising a cheer with its pseudo-rap rhythm, Shakespearean lyrics for what would be a straightforward tale with anyone else. These guys couldn’t tell anything in a straightforward manner.
A turgid token slow set isn’t memorable, thankfully being blown away by ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ at such a lively pace that a broken snare is suffered, something that seems to happen to the lads quite regularly as they joke their way through the repairs. As the end approaches, Higgs stops holding back, any cocky painting-by-numbers eschewed with a seemingly genuine delight that the band are playing their first gig in Belfast. An extra snare is brought out for Higgs in ‘Don’t Try’ and Belfast is ready to give something back, the quirky rhythms provoking the audience into throwing some reserved, midweek shapes.
After a pathetically short and unconvincing encore break, the band and finale snare reappear. The tribal drums and almost Native American harmonies of ‘Cough Cough’ clash with the zany synths at just the right angle. It ends with understatedly beautiful ‘Weights’, a completely unique invention with touches of stadium rock guitar between choral breaks, resembling ELO more than anything being created in the present day. As it flies into space-age fantasy, the band leave the stage and an audience who are a little disappointed that ‘Come Alive Diana’ didn’t appear are still intrigued by these mad monks. Intrigued, and a little in love.
Main image by Ste Murray