Lost in the Woodsby Andrei Van Wyk / Images by Paris Brummer / 17.08.2011
The night is cold and the street in front of The Woods seems to be steaming. The sound of beer glasses clinking in celebration and people chatting each other up fills the room. The entrance is packed with people trying to prove that they’re on the guest list, while the bar looks full of kids trying to sneak a drink with fake ID’s. The mood is simple tonight, a contrast from the usually complicated atmosphere of people drinking their lives away and stumbling to the soundtrack of the pretentious dude-rock jumping out of the speakers. The Woods is an amazing place; an inviting atmosphere, cheapish drinks and the management’s foolhardy belief that a stage half the size of my bed, is sufficient for hosting bands and their instruments.
Up first, Short Straw are a band with a simplistic melody driven outlook and a sound rooted in pure acoustic pop. Their set displays elements of Afro-beat, polyrhythmic drumming and a minimalistic but highly textured guitars and a gentle but solid rhythm section. Their music is addictive and easy to dance to, but their lead singer thinks he’s a comedian and won’t shut up, and that turns their offering into more of a lounge act heavily inspired by The Lonely Island and Flight of the Conchords. The crowd screams for their hit “Keanu Reeves” and it’s clear that the band are known mainly for their sense of humour, which is sad because they have real musical abilities and their pop-driven melodies get people dancing. Short Straw should either improve their comedy, or just focus on the music because, right now, the comedy routine is reducing their great music to the level of a high school talent show.
I eavesdrop on some drunk-before-they-got-here people, sitting and moaning about work and their girlfriends. Two lesbians in the corner wave at their friends seductively while the drunks dancing to silence stumble onto the floor. The sound check for the next band is quick, seeing that it’s just a microphone and a laptop.
The Frown is a band which has polarized the Jozi music scene. Opinions vary between labelling them Lark copy-cats or heralding them as the hottest and freshest new shit available. What I know about Eve Rakow, I gleaned from an article written by Brandon Edmonds a couple of months earlier which received an even response of praise and disparagement. The set begins and I get bored quick. Her stage persona is overdone and the vocals land somewhere between Bjork and Inge Beckmann. But Eve is a highly skilled vocalist, she has an effortless ability to captivate a crowd with her vocal chords. But the backing track creates a highly synthetic atmosphere which is a contrast from their live set. They run through their songs. Their cover of “Rockstar” is well-received from a curious crowd. And even though the set has that synthetic sound quality it’s still a musically rewarding show.
Jesse Clegg is seen by many as fitting the same mould of pop-manufacture as The Parlotones, so it was surprising to see him in the line up. But Jesse works hard and is eager to show his versatility as both song writer and musician. He gets up on stage confidently and introduces his alternative pop rock sound. Words like “generic” and “unoriginal” flit through my mind, but his performance is precise and polished. Many might argue that a polished sound isn’t very rock n roll, but his execution of songs like “The Great Escape” puts him in contention as the best act of the night. The guitars are perfectly in tune with each other and bounce off the walls with superb precision. The drums are solid with a beautiful inserted keyboard which gives a rich textural sound. The crowd look up in awe as an act as fascinating as his father’s controls the stage. He fills the air with songs of love and peace which is a breath of fresh air in a scene filled with jaded indie critics. As a finale he plays Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man” beautifully and it’s clear that Jesse Clegg, despite not having totally nailed his sound yet, has an original kind of star quality.
Soon after Clegg leaves the stage the floor is packed with kids anticipating the charismatic Desmond and the Tutus show. After their set up we see Guitarist Doug jump up in front of the stage and dance viciously with an energy which hints at what’s in store. Soon a thumping bassline punctuated by a cowbell kicks things off. They begin their set with “Pictures” which receives a great roar from the crowd who jump into frenzy. While songs like “German Modern”, with its addictive chromatic bassline, plunges onto the floor as Shane’s colourful vocals paint images while his dinosaur hand reaches into the crowd. Their music is strong in its ability to get people to drill holes into the dance floor and it’s always an intense live show.
The street in front of The Woods is still steaming and that seems to match the exhilaration running through the hearts and burbling from the throats of most in attendance, as we disperse into the cold Jozi night.
All images © Paris Brummer.