The Great Escape Festival – Day 3

May 27, 2009 at 2:45 pm (Gigs, Music)

graetescape2008logo

Ah, if only more Great Escape venues shared their toilets with two-bit karaoke bars or similarly empty establishments, things would be so much easier. Komedia could be accessed through some organic juice bar, the Brighton Fishing Museum would provide a handy gateway into a number of sea-side clubs, and one could nip into the Mash Tun for a swift pint only to emerge in the spacious Corn Exchange and actually get to see The Maccabees. It would certainly beat all that queuing.

The Veils@Horatios

The Veils@Horatios

Sadly only one venue that I know of offers this particular quirk, but it is a serendipitous discovery that allows us a second view of the excellent Veils ***. Sadly Horatios end of pier charms are no match for the acoustics of the Sallis Benney Theatre, and the sound is too muddy and compressed to really do the band justice. The strength of their arrangements however, ensures they leave a lasting impression on the crowd. Finn Andrew’s voice is rich and powerful enough to fill any venue, and with the lead guitar lines taking on greater prominence the band discard some of the subtleties in favour of a harder, blues orientated set.

The blame for our late arrival at Horatios can be laid at the collective feet of The Levis Store and the Great Escape’s text service, who have conspired to seduce us into believing that tickets for a ‘secret’ Babyshambles gig are available from Churchill Square. Needless to say this information is received just as we are approaching the pier, necessitating a frenzied and ultimately fruitless detour through a packed and muggy town centre.

Luckily for those who have missed out on tickets, the aforementioned gig is to take place on Audio’s outside patio. This leads to hundreds of fans lining the streets outside the venue, leaning precariously out of overlooking balconies, and cramming themselves into the adjacent Amsterdam Bar in the hope of catching a glimpse of their wayward hero. The band are a good hour late, but the waiting hordes are finally rewarded with a short set of fan favourites including ‘Pipedown’ and ‘Fuck Forever’ and get to witness Pete’s footballing ability first hand when he dispatches a football thrown up to him from the crowd with a well placed header.

Thankfully Audio is a little less packed out for the double header of The Soft Pack *** and Hockey ***** later in the evening. Unfortunately for the former, the sound levels within the cramped venue are not what they could be, and the more melodic parts of the band’s set are suffocated in a haze of compressed top-end thrash. As a result, The Soft Pack’s Modern Lovers meets In Utero era Nirvana stylings sound one dimensional and half formed, which is a shame as there is a faintly detectable suggestion of compelling guitar work running underneath it all. At least the guitarist provides some visual amusement, as he continually contorts his face into a passable impersonation of a Care in the Community kid in the midst of visiting his first prostitute.

The Soft Pack - Cum-face guitarist not pictured

The Soft Pack - Cum-face guitarist not pictured

Hockey, on the other hand, have no such problem. Their DFA inspired hyper-funk connects with the audience immediately and by halfway through their second song there is not one stationary set of feet in the whole venue. Smooth bass lines intersect convulsive guitar riffs, while the swirling synths coat the entire set in a soulful warmth that perfectly accompanies singer Benjamin Grubin’s vocals. Tracks like ‘Work’ and ‘Too Fake’ sound instantly familiar, while at the same time lending themselves perfectly to extended improvisations that ramp up the intensity. At this rate, they will be household names within a year.

From here it is straight off to the Concorde2 for a night of live dance music form two of Brighton’s finest. First up is Evil Nine ***** who have gone the whole hog and fully expanded into a four-piece live band, and proceed to take their music far beyond the limitations of their initial break-beat style. Throwing everything from Afro-beat to fuzz-rock into a huge melting pot of invention, they manage to combine dark, sleazy basslines and overdriven guitar with dub vocals and infectious pop hooks, laying them perfectly over incessant beats. The genius of it is that it doesn’t just feel like a pair of DJ’s who have roped in some mates to lend their set an air of heightened musicianship. Instead, they come across as a fully formed and tightly rehearsed band, working as a unit to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Freeland brings the festival to a suitably messy close

Freeland brings the festival to a suitably messy close

Following this, we have Freeland ****, whose set is slightly closer to a conventional live take on his work as a DJ. Again, the line-up is augmented by guitar and drums, with Freeland himself strutting around behind a bank of keyboards like some rockabilly SS commander, and pumping up the crowd with his dance-punk vocal delivery. Whereas Evil Nine win the crowd over with exotic rhythms, panache and band interplay, Freeland elects to simply bludgeon them into submission with intense salvos of dark power, as unrelenting blasts of bass and strobe hammer the crowd into joyful oblivion. There is (slight) respite with a closing ‘We Want Your Soul’, which at least offers a recognisable refrain for the audience to shout back with, but for the most part this is a set done Freeland’s way; dark, dirty and totally unstoppable.

Final Thoughts

As we stagger out into the night and begin to contemplate a return to our bleak non-festival existence, there are a few additional observations which warrant a mention. These are:

1)      Honourable mentions to a couple of bands I missed for one reason or another. Including The Temper Trap (everyone I know who saw them said they were excellent), The Bombay Bicycle Club (constantly clashed with other gigs), The Big Pink (who cancelled), and Casiokids.

2)      Drinks prices. £3.60 for a small plastic bottle of Carlsberg? Really? I know you’re not making much on the door, but there was an occasion where we elected to go to a pub for a drink rather than watch some random band at Komedia as we simply couldn’t afford to drink there. We’re not all industry insiders you know.

3)      The organisation was, I think, better again this year. The head honchos seem to have realised that it’s probably best getting some of the bigger, headlining acts into the Corn Exchange, as it’s massive. Yes, there were still queues, but other than putting the band on the beach and the audience in the sea, there’s not much else that could have been done.

4)      There were some slight odd bits of scheduling however. Hockey played twice at two of the smallest venues in the festival despite being one of the more hotly tipped acts to appear, and separately ticketed bands should not be classed as part of the festival. Making people pay twice to go and see Kasabian may seem like poetic justice for having no taste, but it still seems a bit unfair.

5)      More bands in the daytime next time please. We like bands, and we like drinking in the day.

First published at TheBrightonMagazine.com

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