When a band are commanding £10 a ticket, especially at little venue like Headrow House, it’s a fair indicator that they’ve got some game, not to mention fans who are likely to be willing to pay it. Because even art, in all its forms, is subject to the constraints of capitalism. And being a touring band is tough. It’s understandable, then, that tonight’s acts, New York headliners Charly Bliss, and London trio Big Joanie, who are their travelling support, are so obviously and explicitly happy about tonight’s turnout and enthusiastic response.
They deserve both: Big Joanie, who’ve garnered some exposure with some well-received DIY releases and a tour supporting Parquet Courts, aren’t preachy about their black feminist punk credentials, and instead let the songs and the quality of the performance be the things by which they’re measured. The format is striking, with the minimal drum kit (just four pieces: floor tom, snare, cymbal, cowbell) front-centre stage. Chardine stands to play them in a style reminiscent of Bobby Gillespie when The Jesus and Mary Chain were starting out, and also contributes to the three-way harmonies that sweeten their sparse, spiky post-punk tunes. She makes optimal use of the most limited setup to produce some remarkable dynamics, propelling some solid grooves that are tight as it gets with the thumping bass that provides the backbone to their short, punchy songs. ‘How Could You Love Me?’ is nothing other than a stomping pop tune. Pitching themselves as occupying the space between Nirvana and The Ronettes is pretty much on the money, and throwing X-Ray Spex into the mix also seems reasonable.
They’re out of records, but have odds-and-sods merch on offer, and what makes watching them play all the better is seeing them interact with the audience and one another: this is a band who are loving playing and simply being a band together. It’s life-affirming and uplifting.
The same is true of everything about Charly Bliss, to the power of ten. They may have opened for Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Parade, Veruca Salt, and Death Cab for Cutie, but a headlining tour is something else entirely – and hey certainly rise to the occasion. The ‘boys’ arrive on stage, in uniform white jeans, tees, and trainers, and while the trimmed beards and haircuts are a bit hipster, they look like a band, and provide a well-considered visual backdrop for the colourful and exuberant display of boundless energy that is Eva Hendricks. She is ALL the energy. Switching between synths and guitars and vocals only, her exuberance is infectious as she pogos and bounces and never shows even the slightest hint of fatigue. And nor does any of it seems forced or fake: this is a band visibly driven by passion and enthusiasm, who genuinely appreciate the privilege of performing to fans who know all the words, and sing them back as they bounce around, grinning every last minute of the set.
I’d jotted a page or so of notes about some of the fans, probably mid-thirties, in sparkly unicorn-pattern dresses and cat-ear headbands, about infantilism and arrested development…. But no. I’m not going to do anyone down: the atmosphere is warm, and there’s a sense of community, of unity, which is so rare. And everyone is so… NICE, so HAPPY. It’s truly a joy to behold.
Eva sheds tears several times, and they’re tears of joy. Launching their second album, ‘Young Enough’, away from home (tonight is officially the release party) to such a rapturous reception understandably means a lot, and it means just as much to the people in the room. And it feels like a huge privilege to be a part of it.
Musically, and in terms of delivery, they’re hard to fault: the songs are punchy and bursting with hooks, and if they sound polished, well, fair play: the guitars have enough drive to keep things edgy as they power through a set that’s consistently uptempo, but it’s apparent they have the potential to reach a much wider audience and play much bigger venues. Sam Hendricks’ varied and dynamic drumming deserves special mention: it’s crisp, tight, and imaginative, and really stands out as a feature which distinguishes the band’s sound.
The two-song encore (which really does feel unplanned) features a sincere and enthusiastic cover of The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’, and it’s an emotional, happy end to an emotional, happy night. Bliss indeed.