The Grace Darling
Neither French nor animalistic, Animaux are one of the more competent bands to grace the small stage of the Grace Darling. The first of the evening’s three bands (none of which have fewer than seven members), Animaux specialise in the brand of polished soulful pop beloved by teenage musicians having fun with their instrumental proficiency, which means there are riffs copped from all over the place everything is played and sung with technique to spare, and is totally bereft of actual pop or soul. Despite this, it’s hard to deny the fun being had on and off the crowded stage. It’s also the first of three exemplary displays of sound engineering by the mixer who does a brilliant job juggling instrument swapping, horn sections, copious percussion and multiple vocalists.
As audience numbers pick up, The Bon Scotts give them something to get excited about. Featuring harp, baritone horn, accordion, cello and a rhythm section raised on The Waterboys and Beirut, songs like Let’s Do What the Catholics Do and Lovely Bones (‘this has nothing to do with the book or film, that’s an unfortunate coincidence’) showcase singer Robert Zimmerman’s (yes, really) deft way with words and references. So passionately delivered is the music, its pace so frantic and acoustic instruments so prominent the songs sound politically driven, though the only politics Zimmerman is interested in are personal. The band’s gifted arrangements and banter like ‘this song is about songs you love now that will eventually be used to sell you crap, like fridges’ betray an imagination at work that will only get better with time.
By the time The Good China assemble themselves amongst the plastic foliage and paper lanterns decorating the stage, the venue is packed. Within minutes of the first song kicking in, you’re forced to ask ‘how can a band this good not be everywhere?’ While there are at least four singers in the octet, each with a different style of song, the songwriting quality never drops and the variations on attention-wresting imaginative pop music seem limitless. Singer James Grech favours clipped Phoenix-like funk, Nick McMillan an exciting Go Team!-style verbose intensity while backing vocals of Mietta Sancolo and violin of Quyen Le are the most notable examples of the musical prowess needed to make songs seem this thrillingly simple. Tonight’s show is to launch new single No More Maps, No More Roads one of several high points in a stellar set.