Ryder Prangley And The Witches
Two girls sit on stage in camp-fire woollies, plucking plangent guitars and crooning winsome ballads. That's Lilies On Mars.
And that's a slight surprise, because the Lilies are two former members of gonzoid frock-rockers Mab, although you won't get that piece of information from Lilies On Mars themselves. The Lilies' former incarnation is not mentioned anywhere on their MySpace page. This, coupled with the abruptness of the split (it seems only yesterday I was reviewing Mab in full effect at the Borderline) suggests that things were not exactly amicable.
Well, what the hell. What's done is done. What Lilies On Mars are doing right now is pleasantly folkie, indeed, quite charming in its way. But I confess I was hoping for more than just charming pleasantries. When the Lilies announce a song 'By one of our favourite artists, Fleet Foxes' I'm suddenly gripped by the frightening notion that they've sold their souls for easy-listening AOR. Fleet Foxes? They'll be doing Coldplay covers next!
Perhaps I'm being unfair on Lilies On Mars. There is, apparently, a full-band incarnation - drums and everything - which might make more of an impact. The two-piece line-up on stage tonight probably doesn't tell us the full story. It's not that I want the Lilies to reproduce Mab's frenzied rock-outs (not least because I believe Mab themselves will, at some point, regroup with a new line-up), but frankly a little more welly wouldn't go amiss.
The Dogbones know all about welly. Their two-drummers-one-drumkit line-up and their winning way with an overdriven Gibson mean that there's plenty of tribal grunge thunder in the band's sound. But The Dogbones also know a thing or two about pop song hooks and catchy choruses, and all that good stuff. Even as the drums batter mightily and the backline spews forth streams of heady distortion, we're never more than a riff or two away from a lodge-in-your-brain hook, while vocalist Nomi Leonard's punkzoid shriek resolves itself effortlessly at key intervals into Proper Singing.
The Dogbones balance precariously on the cusp of rampant noise and cool pop stylings, but they never fall off. Meanwhile, Crispin Gray - mostly on bass, occasionally on guitar - jerks around the stage in an array of patent glam-rock shapes that would be parodic if anyone else did them, but...well, this is Crispin Gray, isn't it? He can get away with it if anyone can. In short, The Dogbones mash it up and make it work.
band names tempt fate - or, at least, tempt smart-arse reviewers. Faced
with a band called This Is Not
A Dead Transmission, it requires a distinct
effort of will not to deliver the obvious riposte, 'Oh yes it is, mate.'
But what of the sonics, you ask? Well, we're in the realm of the Big Music, that's for sure. The riffs are towering, the vocals impassioned, the sense of drama never lets up. The overall result is...rather overblown and annoying, actually. The vocals, a histrionic alto throughout, sound like someone's been mainlining Muse. But - you know what? - stadium rock isn't my thing. Especially when it's a long way from a stadium.
project time. David Ryder Prangley And The Witches
is the occasional, slightly-experimental, do-what-I-like vehicle of -
guess who - David Ryder Prangley, main man in Rachel Stamp and all-round
glam rocker about town. Tonight there's only one Witch on stage - Belle,
on drums, peering quizically from among his cymbals, wondering what his
frontman is going to do next.
It's actually rather good to see a performer free themselves from the ruthless tyranny of the set list, even if the proceedings occasionally get a little too random for comfort. David Ryder Prangley sits down, stands up, fiddles with his guitar, haphazardly launches into songs, sometimes only to abandon them half way through - a rather nifty version of The Velvet Underground's 'Heroin' is chopped off in its prime - and generally gives the impression that he's invited an audience along to witness a jam session with his mate. It's entertaining in its way, although before long I feel like shouting out, 'Oi, Dave - do it properly!'
Crispin Gray, sconded to The Witches for tonight, comes on for one song. He gives it the full guitar Monty, and single-handedly makes this rather ramshackle set look something like a real performance. It's engaging and frustrating in equal measures, because I'm sure, underneath all the whimsical mind-changes and randomness, there's a good Witches gig here which we don't quite get. Just because this is a side project doesn't mean structure can be abandoned to the point where it all falls to bits.