Another week begins and with that another few days of living out of a suitcase. Goodness knows how sustainable this all is but for now I’m embracing the Airbnb variety and enjoying the nomadic lifestyle. This week I’m in a newly refurbished place above a fine bar in New Cross. Apparently, these rooms were once where the punters of the pub went for a bit of ‘how’s your father’. Now it’s so fresh that I suspect I’m one of the first guests of the new regime; you can still smell the new coat of paint and see the cuttings from the recently laid carpet. It’s gentrification gents and probably no bad thing.
Tonight, rather than stay around this neck of the woods, I hop on the overground and head up to Dalston again – but, unlike two weeks ago when I tested the Victoria (here) I spin off in another direction towards the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a venue I’ve been keen to visit for a while. Many of the bands I grow to love cite it as a pub you must play and I can see why. Stylishly run-down but oozing cool, it’s a space to cherish. On busier nights than this you imagine sticking to the floor. The signs on the door as you enter asking you to leave quietly are a visible reminder that too many great places such as this have fallen foul of spiteful resident power-groups.
I keep one eye on the football but mostly I’m here for the gig. I reserved myself a ticket when this was advertised as having a secret SXSW headliner. But there was no need for such sensible planning. It’s another free London show, lovingly curated by Black Cat White Cat and it’s busy but never rammed. Nobody bothers with my ticket that I diligently downloaded to my phone.
There are four acts on tonight. I watch them all with varying degrees of interest.
Heavy Heart are up first. But the duo on stage are at pains to tell us that this is a stripped-down version of their standard quintet. They ask that we forgive them for being mildly under-rehearsed and most in the crowd seem able to. Despite the best intentions of a pretty awful sounding drum machine, the male/female dynamic works and gets better as the set progresses. There’s a psychedelic shoegazey gothicness quality and when it works (in particular on set stand out, Teenage Witch) it proves to be a decent opening to this night of live music.
Desire are up next. I only know this is their name for that is what’s daubed in red, angular font across a white sheet that initially obscures their drummer. The bedsheet drops as the drummer pounds. Cans of Kronenburg are cracked open and an almighty racket ensues..It’s part mod, part punk. None of them give a flying fuck about being here and that essence of anti-performance carries them through. As much as this might just be another practice, Desire’s drummer still manages to channel the ghost of Keith Moon as he crazily bangs. There’s some Marr-esque guitar riffage from a floppy fringed guitarist whilst the bass player who also takes on singing duties offers up some atonal oi-oi-ness. There’s definitely something here.
For me though, the night belongs to Haze. I’m willing to bet a house on the fact that this is not the semi-legendary prog band of that name but rather something new. They start with an urgent combination of rock n’roll played through a Beefheart lens before jazz gives way to a country rhythm – and that’s just in the first two minute long song. A four piece, the exceptional lead guitarist and vocalist emits words like a juggernaut hurtling towards you at speed whilst the bass player captivates centre stage with the craziest of dancing mixed up with the most outlandish posing. Three songs in and said bass player’s shirt comes off, an affliction you’d likely detest within lesser bands. But he’s working and sweating so hard that you don’t mind it here. Tunes are played at breakneck, exhilarating speed. You really must go and see Haze in a venue such as this whilst the chance still presents.
Honey Lung are the secret SXSW headliner. It’s barely a secret now though because they advertised this gig on their social media last week. There are less gimmicks here than what has gone before in the night; it’s the quality of the songwriting that’s allowed to do the talking. It’s indie-rock with occasional west-coast jangle; inoffensive and well-played but somehow not hitting the heights of Haze for me. A safe, solid bet for a SXSW showcase no doubt and I’ll watch them again given the chance.
Tuesday night gig options are checked through on the tube back to the hostel. Tonight’s been a great way to blow away the early-week cobwebs but I might plump for something more sedate tomorrow.