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O. Children
John And JehnThe Chapman Family
John And Jehn

XOYO, London
Wednesday March 23 2011


London venues come and go. This we know. But while there's usually a chorus of disapproval from bands and music fans alike when a venue closes down, there are hardly ever any celebrations when a new one opens up. Case in point: the Astoria, which provoked an outpouring of woe second only to the death of Princess Diana when it closed. But I didn't notice anyone welcome the opening of the Troxy. More recently the closure of The Gaff occasioned much lamenting and lurid prophecies of doom for London's rock circuit, but nobody, as far as I've seen, has acknowledged the arrival of London's newest venue (at the time of writing: there'll probably be three more by now) - XOYO.

So let's give it up for the venue one time, and personally a venue mamed after a song by The Passage wins it for me straight off. What's more, XOYO is housed in an old print works, which gives it just the right kind of post-industrial style. It has a decent PA, decent sightlines, decent beer, and even the toilets are clean. Mind you, the state of the bogs will soon change. This is rock 'n' roll, after all. But it proves one thing: the demise of London's live music circuit is a myth. It's alive and well. It just shifts around a bit. Do try to keep up.

Right now we're keeping up with John and Jehn, who play their taut, to-and-fro pop with a certain spiky tension that neatly counterpoints their dense, lush song arrangements and makes for a rather compelling show. John is all hard stares and rock 'n' roll grandstanding; Jehn is the gamine Liza Minelli-esque foil to his untamed guitarslinging. You can't tie John And Jehn down to a few handy comparisons, which is a good thing - and a rare thing nowadays, when so many bands wear their influences on their sleeves. But John and Jehn have carved out something of their own, and in songs such as 'Vampire' - a neat slice of insistent alternopop that would be clumsy melodrama in many other bands' hands - and 'And We Run', with its relentles build-up-build-up chorus, they have songs plenty strong enough to turn them into stars.

The Chapman FamilyFractious and frowny and in their perennial strop, The Chapman Family crash-land on the stage with a bucketload of attitude. Their schtick is familiar enough: anger 'n' angst wrapped up in loud, abrasive, we-don't-like-you rock 'n' roll.

Plenty of bands have played it that way, of course. But look into the eyes of The Chapman Family's lead singer as he rages and rants his way through the band's remorseless racket, and tell me he doesn't mean it. The band generate a ferocious guitar-driven noise, and whatever ire fuels their fire - a non-specific fury at the state of everything, it would seem - it provokes them into a high-tension performance that stays just the right side of posturing bluster.

That's always the risk with this kind of stuff, of course: there's a fine line between exhilarating outbursts of umbrage and mere shouty-crackers grandstanding. The Chapman Family walk that line, but their scowls seem real.

What were we saying about bands who wear their influences on their sleeves? I recall, when I first reviewed O. Children - back in 2008, do try to keep up - I more or less dismissed them as being a bit too in thrall to Joy Division for comfort. It wasn't just me, mind. O. Children had that comparison thrown at them from all sides, much to the band's annoyance. But that was then, and this is now. The band has grown into its own identity, its own sound, and, not incidentally, they've become a dynamic live act to boot. Vocalist Tobi O'Kandi has a naturally commanding stage presence - it helps being well over six feet tall, of course - and tonight the band claim ownership of XOYO as surely as if they'd paid cash for the place.

A slow-burn start to the set gradually builds into restless, vital, rolling, tumbling post-punker thunder. 'Radio Waves' has a driving confidence; 'Ezekiel's Son' surges along on a barrage of staccato drums and precice, pinpoint guitar, anthemic yet always controlled. O. Children do that dynamics-versus-control thing better than anyone. The band wrap things up with the crowd-pleasing 'Ace Breasts', and it says much for O. Children's innate cool that they can play a song with a title like that and not seem irredeemably naff. But the song obviously belongs to an earlier, dare I say less mature, incarnation of O. Children. They're beyond that point now, and moving forward. Now it's up to us all to keep up.

O Children

O. Children: Website | MySpace | Facebook

The Chapman Family: Website | MySpace | Facebook

John And Jehn: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Find O. Children and John And Jehn album reviews here.

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