The Belgrave Music Hall is one of Leeds’ newer music venues, but has rapidly established a reputation as one of the best places in town to go and see quality live music. I’d only been once for a remarkable Antlers gig, so this free show with four of the coolest bands around, organized under the auspices of The Beacons Metro music festival (which is pretty much a guarantee of quality in itself) was a perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with the place. While downstairs is a hectic trendy bar and diner, the upstairs rooms are divided between a stage room at one end and a big room full of overstuffed sofas and comfy chairs at the other. Despite having a really rather nice looking lighting rig it seems to be a favoured haunt of bands who like to play in the dark so pictures tend to be on the murky end of the scale but what the hell, they’re only pictures. This was an evening about music, Saturday, October 10th.
Roughly speaking it was a night of post-punk revivalism (although what it served to emphasize most was just how vague a notion the whole ‘post-punk’ thing was and is), and an occasion when the bands seemed determined not to indulge in any of that fatuous showmanship malarkey that mars so many shows. The presence of onlookers seemed almost beside the point, and at times it was less like a gig and more like the breaking of the fourth wall at a particularly intense rehearsal jam session as all four bands seemed inclined to spend long periods either facing the back of the stage or facing each other. When Lucy Hatter, bassist of Kagoule, said to an audience member, “Well I guess if you’re happy then that means everything’s okay, right?” she couldn’t have sounded less convincing if she’d held up a big sign saying “disdainful irony”. None of which, I should hasten to point out, is not intended as a criticism because it meant that they spent their time making music instead. Which is much better than showmanship every time.
Sauna Youth are from Brighton via London and they set the bar high with their surf pop-inflected post-punk that came at you in frenzied bursts. Their songs are short and fast, the way punk songs are meant to be but also at times remarkably erudite. “Abstract Notions” sounds like a passage of Hegel set to a theme by The Ramones and “Transmitters”, from their most recent album Distortions, is a song about modern communication and ideas of immediacy and permanence – “I want my thoughts scratched into plastic, hear my voice on an endless loop.”
Crushed Beaks play melodic indie-pop driven by ringing guitars and an ability to put together great catchy hooks, but there’s still enough of the garage band about them to make them fit right in with the other acts on the bill. They’ve become a three-piece with the addition of bassist Scott Bowley to the original pairing of guitarist Matthew Poile and drummer Tim Watkins, and their recent album Scatter has seen their stock rise. Highlight of the set was “Overgrown”, which has all the attributes of classic indie jangle but played at breakneck speed to set the old pulse racing, managing to combine being quite dark with being very danceable.
Next up were Kagoule, all the way from sunny Nottingham, who combined some distinctly funky bass with psych guitar and some of the most extraordinary off-kilter drumming I’ve ever heard to produce big dark songs fill of echo-y complexity, which started slow and then exploded into life as bassist and guitarist turned to face each other and just rocked out (as we used to say in the old days – probably a different thing altogether now). It was utterly mesmerizing to watch and hear and Kagoule are a band I shall be keeping an eye open for in future (especially in Scunthorpe).
This being a late show it was just after midnight when Traams took to the stage, and whether or not that was a good plan was at least questionable. The first two bands having enjoyed a packed house, things had thinned out a little for Kagoule and by the time the headliners arrived the crowd had thinned out to the appreciative hardcore. Traams’ brand of post-punk mages to be simultaneously urgent and expansive and I’ve been listening to their most recent album – 2013’s Grin – for several months, so it’s great to hear the band live and they certainly weren’t a disappointment, playing with a heads down intensity that makes for a riveting performance. They’re a band who like to lay down a groove and then take it for the proverbial walk, with extended improvisational breaks (I’m going to call them that because that is the impression they give, but it may be that it’s all rehearsed down to the tiniest inflection on every crotchet for all I know), and some creative feedback which saw guitarist Stuart Hopkins threatening to fall into his amps on occasion so far towards them did he lean, and a building of intensity until it seemed that something has to give, at which point the band adroitly pull things around..
It’s not to a style to everyone’s taste. “That bit in the middle, where you dragged it out, you should have kept going much longer,” explained one ironic voice from the crowd, and although he was probably just joshing the band played the next number, the achingly romantic “Flowers” (“I don’t even know your number / And you don’t even know my name”) as a three-minute single but they reverted to form straight after, before bringing bring the show to a close with a great workout for all three members that finishes with a huge squall of feedback as the band leave the stage.
A great night at The Belgrave, as anticipated, showcasing some of the best and most original talents on the current music scene and roll on Hookworms next week.