Despite this being the fourth time I have been to a gig with Van Der Neer on the bill, the last two have ended up being frontman Simon Snaize playing a solo acoustic set of, mainly, the band’s songs and this is only the second time I have seen them as the full trio. It seems it is difficult to get the three of them together in one room and tonight they came on stage earlier than planned because bass player Stu Fletcher had another gig lined up for later in the evening. I had forgotten how powerful and loud they come across, the opening track soon reminded me. In full band format, Snaize’s vocals come across less soulful than when he plays solo, but the music still felt a bit blues-y to me. Second track Kali Ma, however, was more rock-y than blues-y. Today was the day Labour voted in a new leader and, between songs, Snaize asked whether the audience were happy with the outcome, declaring that he was in response to the muted reply, before the band continued with a slightly (very slightly) slower song with a nice mid-track guitar section. After announcing that the next track would be Don’t Give Up, Snaize explained that he had stopped introducing songs because, “All I do is give the title and then reiterate it.” (That makes this particular hobby just that little bit harder…) This one definitely had a slower opening, its gentler sound broken occasionally by the crash of a drum, the drumming itself all but drowned out by the chorus. A lively mid-track instrumental led into an even more lively end and an appreciative cheer from the crowd. The band had well and truly warmed up by now and tracks were delivering variances in tone and style throughout. I’d like to tell you the name of the one I thought was the best so far but, you know, no introductions… I’d recognise the final song of the set with being told its name, though. Everybody Knows is, perhaps, the most mainstream of Van Der Neer’s songs and is, at present time, easily the most recognisable and, therefore, memorable. Tonight it opened in frenetic fashion, Dave Hartley’s drumming impressive throughout, and brought the short set to a suitable close, just in time for Fletcher to head off to that other gig or, as Snaize explained, to fight crocodiles in Equador…
Before tonight I had only seen Idle Jack And The Big Sleep once, nearly six years ago, and couldn’t remember much about them apart from the fact that they used a theremin. Since then, they have gone into hibernation and reformed for a “one-off” tenth anniversary gig last December. It went do so well, they decided to do another and there was more news yet to come.
The earlier-than-planned start meant a long gap between the two bands, plenty of time to heel-kick and watch the stage being set up for the headliners, with the aforementioned theremin, a banjo and a small mandolin being positioned amongst the melange of cable and amps. Funny, I’ve never noticed a mandolin has eight strings before. Eventually most of the band took to the stage, looking ready to start. I’m fairly certain that I caught a glimpse of Robert Loxley Hughes running past me towards the green room at this point. As the music started the drone/shoegaze sound seemed to drag the crowd forward. Simon Himsworth’s kicked in and then Hughes appeared on stage, taking a swig from a bottle of Newcastle Brown before launching into some wordless vocals. There was a voice-over, something about an embrace in the arms of Poseidon, but I didn’t recognise it. Hughes, as exuberant as ever – although perhaps slightly less flamboyant – was soon onto the theremin, then guitar as shoegaze changed into something more recognisable as a tune and then the triple guitars of Hughes, Mike East and Jack Hammerton bringing forth something altogether heavier, while Rob East’s bass could be felt through the vibration floor. Sonar-like pings and a long scream from Hughes started the second track. Hammerton’s guitar was atmospheric in the background, Hughes’ vocals strong and mostly clear, the whole band tight, powerful and energetic. The band’s favourite song followed. I noted lyrics, but can’t find them anywhere. It slowed the pace down, opening slowly and atmospherically but stepping up into a powerful climax. Hughes moved onto the banjo for the next track and there were cries of approval from the crowd. Again, all I could do was hopefully note down lyrics – There’s a ghost inside my bones – in the vain hope of tracking the song down. The banjo came through strongly, even when the rest of the band came in, and I have to say that I’ve never seen a banjo “shredded” as it was in the second half of the track, much to the appreciation of the audience, many of whom were much more familiar with the music than I obviously was. The banjo itself became something of a stage prop during the next track.
Hughes introduced one song as the first he wrote after seeing Simon Snaize perform and realising that he had to “up his game and stop writing Led Zeppelin knock-offs”. It came across as slightly theatrical, both musically and with the use of a retro style microphone to add effects to the vocals. Once again the theremin was brought into play, its antenna removed and used as another prop once its use as an instrument was over. Connecting the antenna once again, Hughes then moved onto the mandolin and asked the audience for some well deserved applause for tonight’s soundman before the band played the first song they ever wrote together. Tonight the world is sleeping and I hope that you are too were the opening lyrics. I wondered whether the quiet start was a deception and was soon proved correct as the track stepped up a gear or three. Between vocal sections Hughes was back on the theremin, his face a picture of concentration as he coaxed sounds out of it. A stunning instrumental section was completed with a premature shout of, “Thank you and good night” prompting the audience to shout for more.
And more there was, Hughes explaining that this would be the last song they played together for a long time, then countering the audience’s disappointment with a cheer inducing announcement that new songs were being written. It seems that Idle Jack And The Big Sleep have once again woken up. Lacklustre, written just before the bands break-up, was anything but. Its slightly doom-laden guitars and shouted vocals led me to describe it as the band’s version of Scandinavian death-metal, but much more listenable. With that the band left the stage, until Hughes told then to “stop f***ing around. Let’s play them the song.” Again, I have no idea what the song was called but it was a rousing, anthemic finale that either built or segued into something even more energetic and epic.
A set of nine or ten songs doesn’t seem like much for a headline act and the gig did end even earlier than most at Fibbers but, with their extended instrumentals blurring the borders between progressive and heavy rock, I didn’t feel short-changed at all and I await the next gig, and the new music, with eager anticipation.