La Petite Mort–The Duchess, 31/07/15

Four highly regarded York bands on one bill, none of which I had seen before? It wasn’t a difficult choice when one of my gig-buddies asked whether I fancied going along.

Asio’s Eyes opened proceedings with bass-player Tom Gabbatiss clicking his tongue into the mic, although it wasn’t clear if this was some form of sound check or just a warning to the crowd that things were about to start. Their opening track consisted of moments of quiet, with more vocals than music, interspersed with louder section and wordless backing vocals from Gabbatiss. Sam Howarth’s lead vocals seemed to get stronger as the track moved towards its lively end. Dreams followed, its psychedelic opening somehow reminiscent of whale song, the track itself bass-driven, the subtly smoke-filled stage bathed in light. Gabbatiss encouraged the audience to move forward, dance and even get on stage. One of a trio of girls already dancing at the front looked like she might just do that. An atmospheric opening morphed into a much livelier mid section during the next track, which defied traditional structure, consisting of a wall of sound from Joel Whitaker’s guitar with bass and Callum Topham’s drums over the top. By now the dance troupe in the audience had got bigger. Eros was more choppy than wall of sound, opening with a tight staccato section. The repetitive lyrics section was made more interesting by the dual backing vocals. An almost militaristic drum beat opened the band’s final track, their on-stage actions reflecting the livelier parts of the song without being over the top. Whitaker seemed to be playing his effects pedals almost as much as his guitar. A great opening set of inventive and different music. Not quite intense or space-y enough to be described as a local Hawkwind, but not too far off.

Tonight’s lampy told me that Avalanche Party had asked him to “give us a bit of red.” Given the number of wine bottles on stage, it wasn’t clear whether they were referring to the lights or their favourite coloured tipple. They launched into a heavier, louder opening from the guitars of Jordan Bell and Jared Thorpe. A brief pause then Kane Waterfield’s crashing drums announced the start proper. It was loud, the vocals all but drowned out. A quieter section followed then the volume returned to end this short opening track which led directly into something musically quieter but, frankly, no less powerful, with the vocalist staring intensely out over the mic and one guitarist waving his guitar around to produce some unusual effects. As the next track opened with a lively burst of sound which completely swamped the vocals, my gig-buddy shook his head and left the venue in search of a pint – sometimes his desire for a drink overcomes his passion for music. I stayed, prepared to take the pain on his behalf and found that the next track contained a bit more of a tune, with a hint of rock ‘n’ roll. Any promise in the next track was, once again, lost in the volume, although it was the best of the set so far. Turn the mix down a bit and who knows…? Bass player Joe Bell seemed to be doing all the band’s talking for them, although from where I was standing it wasn’t always easy to hear what was being said. I think he announced the next track as a Franceens cover, but wouldn’t swear to it. Whatever it was, it overtook the previous as the best of the set. Waterfield’s frantic drums drowned out whatever Bell said to introduce the next track. By now one guitarist was off stage and in the audience, strutting as far as his lead would allow, once it had been re-attached. A microphone was also passed down for the new song that followed and the now topless Waterfield was showing off his tattoos. A final, very tightly played song, brought to an end a set which seemed to be enjoyed by young and older in the audience.

My gig buddy returned just as Bull were taking to the stage. Initial impressions, based on the opening guitar was that this was going to be another too-loud set. Thankfully, it turned out not to be. A choppy, indie guitar style and punk-like vocals mixed together for the first short, sharp track and Green, a jangly, almost Manchester Brit-pop sound followed, although there was a bit more edge to it than that description suggests, with mostly clear vocals. Next up was a slower track, with a nice guitar sound. It’s probably doing the band a disservice to suggest it had a vaguely country-rock feel. Building in volume it never became overpowering. The short Eugene had a similar opening to the previous track but soon turned into something completely different. Short track followed short track until something that reminded me of sixties pop saw the vocalist (I do wish all bands would list what each member does, rather than just who they are) cope admirably with a mic stand failure. The final section of the set – it could have been a seamless segue between two songs or just one diverse track – started off being backed by a pounding drum beat which faded away to almost nothing in the mid section before bursting into life again and becoming even faster towards the eventual end.

Final band of the night were La Petite Mort. I have to say, the description on the what’s on listing was enough to pique my interest. What I saw on stage was even more intriguing. A saxophone, a sitar, the guitarists gold sequined jacket and the near complete mismatch of characters and images on stage were what jumped straight out at me. The opening track was strangely hypnotic, not so much saxophone drenched as saxophone enhanced and bass drenched. I could have closed my eyes and just let the music wash over me. There was more inventiveness with DNA, its sound psychedelic both musically and vocally, reminiscent of Ozric Tentacles but more intense. By the third track, one with a jazz feel in places with saxophone once more to the fore, pockets of dancing had broken out in the audience and, like gravity, they seemed to be drawing more and more people in. By now the crowd had swelled to one of the best I have seen for a local line-up for a long time. It was great to see. The sitar added a touch of mysticism to a mostly instrumental track that built brilliantly and was followed by something louder and harder but no less interesting, its epic feel building to a powerful ending. The stage was once more smoke-filled and light-drenched, which only added to the surreal atmosphere. The longer tracks (and possibly a slight overrun of time) meant that La Petite Mort could only fit in six tracks. As if the mix of personnel and instruments wasn’t enough, the band were joined on stage for the set ender by Tim Fox and his harmonica and the now eight musicians on stage were writhing around as if in some sort of musical orgy during a track featuring strong vocals and a persistent bass riff. By the end of the track Fox was in the audience and the band’s guitarist was standing on the kick drum, crouching to avoid The Duchess’ low ceiling, perhaps a little bit unnecessarily showy and definitely a little chaotic, but in a good way. A near-perfect way to end the evening and definitely a band I will be looking to see again.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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