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Birdeatsbaby flyerBirdeatsbaby
Death In Texas
Simonne & The Dark Stars
Rattlesnake, London
Sunday March 10 2013




A night of indie noir up the Rattlesnake. "Indie noir?" I hear you cry. "Don't say you've invented another genre!" Well, no, I haven't - but they have.

Indie noir is the expression tonight's bands use to describe their own music. It's a suitably vague term, but it carries a hint of left-field, after-dark coolness, which doesn't sound bad to me. So let's test the generic term against reality.

Emberhoney have an appropriate name for a venue which, it seems, can't run to more than a dim, default-purple LED stage-light glimmer that's barely brighter than a dying fire. Oh, and the incongrouous, sweeping disco lights which swoop to and fro all night, without the slightest connection to the music. Always a nice touch, that.

EmberhoneyPerhaps that's why Emberhoney have brought their own distressed standard lamp from home, which lends the stage the air of a surrealist sitting room.

That fits the band's faux-Victorian chamber music rather well. It's as if we're present at an ever so slightly bohemian music recital in some rakish drawing room.

I say 'ever so slightly' because in spite of the singer's Artful Dodger hat, the bassist's poker-player weskit and the guitarist's gangster suit, the band aren't as racy as you'd at first assume.

Emberhoney's songs tend towards plangent, meticulous, balladeer territory - wistful and careful, set to a judicious guitar-shimmer and punctilious piano.

It's not like I want Emberhoney to rock out, or anything - perish the thought - but I find myself wishing the band wasn't quite so restrained and respectable. More scandals in Bohemia needed, I reckon.

Simonne & The Dark Stars look like they took a wrong turning on the way to Wilton's Music Hall, circa 1895. Fronted by Simonne herself on vocals and electrical piano, in an outfit that appears to be mostly hat, she rattles through a selection of ditties that are part Marie Lloyd, part Joyce Grenfell.

Simonne & The Dark StarsHer gentlemen musicians lurk in the shadowy corners of the stage (mind you, the stage at the Rattlesnake is all shadowy corners), suited and booted like disreputable vaudevillians.

Together they rattle and plunk through a set of engaging chamber-jazz numbers. The songs are enlivened by violin and bowed saw - The Dark Stars like a bit of the old scrape, so they do, and I suspect that if you filled them up with enough stout they'd start kicking it up like the Pogues.

But Simonne, seated at the piano in that fearsome hat, leading the proceedings like a nice-but-strict sunday school teacher, keeps it all on the straight and narrow.

There's yet another electrical piano on stage now. I don't think I've ever seen so many electrical pianos in one place. They must be swarming, or something. Or maybe at the end of the night they'll all combine in a big Glenn Branca-style massed piano grand finale. We can but hope.

This particular electrical piano belongs to Death In Texas - and with a name like that you might expect a gritty, down-home, alt-country style of thing. But, in fact, Death In Texas aren't like that at all. What Death In Texas do is...power ballads. Vast, towering, piano-led power ballads. I kid you not. Every song is a throw-back-your-head-and-holler exercise in vocal melodramatics, with the singer, whose expressive range extends all the way from bloody loud to even bloody louder, going off-mic at regular intervals as if to demonstrate that amplification is for pussies.

Death In TexasA drummer and bassist gamely try to make their presence felt, adding a bit of structure (and a few proggy tempo-changes), but the dominant element of the sound - to the point where it fills your entire consciousness like a migraine - is that rampant vocal.

As a demonstration of sheer technical prowess, it's impressive. But ultimately it makes Death In Texas seem like a one trick pony of a band. Sure, they can construct power ballads so thunderous they make Bette Midler's 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' sound like minimal techno. But beyond that, what?

Personally, I think someone should take that singer aside and introduce her to the concept of less is more.

Stop me if this doesn't come as a complete surprise, but Birdeatsbaby have yet another electrical piano on stage. Birdseatbaby also have bass, drums, guitar, though. Before they've played a note we can guess that the band station themselves outside the usual parameters of ye olde rock 'n' roll.

As a matter of fact, Birdeatsbaby station themselves outside the usual parameters of almost everything. Their songs are weird, witty, punky-cabaret things that sometimes take off on classical tangents, but always with the rhythm pushed more to the fore than any of the other bands we've seen tonight. That's a key element of Birdeatsbaby's appeal: they don't default to piano-ballad conventionality. They're very much a band, rather than a singing pianist with some backing musos, which, by and large, is how the others presented themselves.

Birdeatsbaby are almost like a gang - a disparate gathering of those geeky, freaky kids who'd spend their school lunch breaks making weird noises in the music room, until a teacher came along and ordered them out into the playground to kick a football around like normal kids, for goodness sake.

BirdeatsbabyBut now, at any rate, the geeky kids rule the music room.

Birdeatsbaby take their art for a pirouette, from the shouty-crackers 'Flog That Horse!' to the wry, jaundiced 'Anchor', and the stroppy soap opera of 'I Always Hang Myself with The Same Rope', a kind of domestic riposte to David Bowie's 'Always Crashing In The Same Car'.

The songs are wordy things - not for this lot the brusque four-line verse, two-line chorus and repeat to fade of mere pop music.

Birdeatsbaby songs are sagas, but, delivered as they are with a certain spiky assertiveness by the band's puckish, punky vocalist, the lyrical drama never tips over into melodrama. I don't quite know if Birdeatsbaby are indie noir, but I do know that they're idiosyncratic fun.

Birdeatsbaby: Website | Facebook

Death In Texas: Website | Facebook

Simonne & The Dark Stars: Website | Facebook

Emberhoney: Website | Facebook

For more photos from this gig, find Birdeatsbaby by name here.

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Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson. Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston. Red N version by Mark Rimmell.
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