It’s not often that I come away from a gig feeling disappointed but tonight was one of those times and, I’ll be honest, it was partly my own fault.
As a bit of background I saw tonight’s Canadian headliners at Fibbers not quite a year ago and, while I enjoyed them, I doubted I would see them back in York because of the small-ish crowd that night. I was pleased to see them on the Duchess listings but, given the recent history of cancelled rock gigs in York, I didn’t hold my breath that this one would go ahead. Still, go ahead it did. Unfortunately, up to days before the gig, the Duchess website didn’t list any support band. The first I heard about any support was when a flyer for the gig was put on Facebook a day or two ago, stating that Taller Than Trees would be playing. Even my gig buddy for the night (a non-Facebooker) turned up saying that he hadn’t seen any support band listed. So, with the prospect of just two bands on, we stayed a bit longer in the pub…
…and arrived at the Duchess in time to see Mallrats clearing their gear off stage, which was slightly strange given that we had arrived ten minutes before their set was due to end according to the schedules dotted around the venue. So, the first disappointment was not only missing one of the bands (which I hate doing) but missing a band of fourteen or fifteen (depending on who you listened to) year olds, presumably locals, playing their very first gig.
So, the first band we saw were the aforementioned Taller Than Trees a progressive post-hardcore band from Teesside who, on their own Facebook page admitted they were a late addition to the line-up. Opening with some subtlish, fairly standard rock music, the vocals took us a bit by surprise, Paul Gent basically shouting down the microphone in a way that was completely at odds with his soft-spoken between songs chatter. “This next one’s very short,” he announced before the band powered through a track that can’t have lasted more than a minute and could even have been less. As the set went on the music seemed to get faster and heavier while the vocals remained much the same, prompting my gig buddy to wonder whether bands such as this actually wrote lyrics or just barked noises down the mic. A trip to the gents during Albatross (not the Fleetwood Mac song…) did little to dull the sound and I got back in time to hear Gent pass over to bass player Ben Leighton to introduce the next song, Except he didn’t, preferring instead to give a shout-out to Mallrats and joke with Gent. It turned out that that song segued into into another. “Yeah, they are both shouty ones,” joked Gent afterwards. A melodic opening and big smiles heralded the next track. The band were clearly enjoying themselves – a couple of them seemed to be belting out the lyrics alongside Gent, even though they had no microphones – and the front line of the audience were clearly enjoying the performance. As it exploded into life this track highlighted the progressive nature of the music more than any other in the set, its relative complexity bringing out some really tight playing. I’m afraid the next track bypassed me but Icarus, the finale, was not only the longest of the set but arguably the most musically diverse. I’m afraid that, when it comes to rock music. I’m not even convinced I like hardcore, let alone anything post it. The music of Taller Than Trees might have been listenable but I found it hard to get past the vocals. That said, the band were obviously good at what they did, even I could see that. It’s just that I’m not the right audience for it.
The half hour shown on the schedule between bands gave us plenty of time to nip out for another pint. We even checked with the people on the door that Kobra and the Lotus would be on stage at the time advertised and left the pub in plenty of time to get back before the start…
…only to find the band already onstage and halfway through what I assume was their first song. “We’re on a tight curfew,” explained Kobra Paige before performing Hold On, a track from High Priestess, the band’s second album which the current tour is promoting. A consummate front-woman Kobra, flashing smiles, is adept at milking the crowd, giving each member of the front line a piece of undivided attention, despite the plethora of phones and cameras pointing her way, and yet still knowing when to move back to allow regular guitarist Jasio Kulakowski and guest Jake Dreyer room at the front to perform their screaming, vertical-necked solos. “There’s a lot of hair on that stage,” quipped my gig-buddy. To be fair, he should have seen last year’s gig, when Santa Cruz supported… I Am I Am continued the new songs with Kobra punching the air with her microphone between vocals, adding to the effect of Bones Elias’ pounding drums. One more new song, yet to become familiar let alone a favourite was followed by the much more recognisable Welcome To My Funeral from the band’s first album. Then it was back to the new material, with the more melodic twin guitar opening of Lost In The Shadows. “It’s a bloody ballad,” complained Andy, just before the music and Kobra’s soaring vocals exploded into life. A great song, well received by the crowd. A short speech about music being a universal language preceded Heartbeat, with Kulakowski’s guitar opening and Elias’s fast and furious drumming being at the forefront of an energetic performance. Earlier bass-player Brad Kennedy had been seen showing his hand to Elias. After ripping through Fifty Shades Of Evil, Kobra explained that he was “shedding blood for the cause”, presumably having cut a finger on one of the strings, (edit – from what I’ve seen elsewhere, it might have been a head injury from the low ceiling of The Duchess) before the band left the stage after a set lasting just over thirty minutes. These days, audiences barely have to shout for an encore, but this one did. Not for long but increasingly loudly, clearly expecting one. After a short while Kobra returned to the stage apologetically telling us that Kennedy couldn’t play and so there wouldn’t be an encore, before asking whether there was a first aid kit behind the bar. Strangely, the situation brought to mind a time when I saw All About Eve at The Barbican many years ago. My memory recalls that, after a similarly short set and no encore, that band were booed by some of the audience. This time around, though, it was very different and this audience seemed to collectively shrug and accept the explanation. Short it might have been, but the set was as impressive as the first time I saw them. Old school metal music reminiscent of the likes of Iron Maiden.
Once again, after the gig, Kobra came out to greet and pose with fans and sign merchandise. As she scribbled across my CD booklet, I thanked her for returning to York and asked whether we would be seeing them again sometime. “Absolutely,”she replied. I really hope so but you’ll understand if, once again, I don’t hold my breath.