As the Scottish sonic-soundscapers headline an eclectic night at The Shipping Forecast, Getintothis’ Paul Higham watches on as Neon Waltz build on their already growing reputation.
It is always a reassuring sign when a band troop onto stage sporting T-shirts of two of your favourite artists. Neon Waltz guitarists, behind unbuttoned shirts, each proudly displayed the distinctive imagery of Television‘s Marquee Moon and British Sea Power‘s Heron Addict. A sure sign of the band’s influences and an indication of their sound? Well, maybe.
Hailing from the very far north of Scotland it is perhaps their physical remoteness that offers the greatest insight to their sound. Far from the usual indie-band strongholds which teem with earnestly on-trend copyists basking in a collective mediocrity, Neon Waltz reveal a reassuring individuality.
Together with a determination to plough their own furrow and pursue their own sound rather than a sanitised version of someone else’s, it is this sureness of direction and confidence in their own skin that so defines their live performance. Too often there is a sense of emerging bands trying too hard to impress, over-reaching and ultimately falling short.
Not so with Neon Waltz.
Rather than look to smash the ball for six, their’s is the sonic equivalent of a gentle caress through the covers for four. Poise, elegance, and above all else, restraint appear their hallmarks.
This is apparent from the off. A broad sonic palette full of wide sweeping soundscapes; the conventional guitar band set-up augmented by the distinctive sound of an organ which adds depth, soul and a sense of mystery.
Almost hidden behind a Tim Burgess-style mop of hair, singer Jordan Shearer’s vocals are buried deep in the mix, weaving in and out of the guitars providing texture and contrast.
When they want to be, Neon Waltz can deliver a sonic blast showcasing impressive walls of sound. When they do so, however, it is always with a deft understanding of its purpose and what it can bring to the song. Slowly built, replete with a subtle build in dynamics, it offers a demonstration of how volume can be used most effectively when it is done selectively.
Highlighting their versatility and musical dexterity, the band closed with a cover of PJ Harvey‘s The Last Living Rose. The accomplished moulding of such a distinctive number into their own set served to reinforce the overriding impression of a group growing in assuredness and confidence.
Perhaps there were more nods to British Sea Power‘s epic soundtracks than to Television‘s more minimal art-punk, but ultimately Neon Waltz are very much their own entity. In an age of over-hyped, here-today-gone-tomorrow throwaway guitar-pop it is welcoming to see a band succeed by old-fashioned methods and songcraft. Little wonder then that they have been included in WOW247‘s 10 New Acts You Need To Hear list.
Opening act Scarlet, the brainchild of Liverpool’s Jessie Robinson, formerly of The Thespians, impressed mightily with a distinctive and harmonious marriage of the moody and introspective with the infectious and upbeat. A tricky tightrope to walk but the band pulled it off with aplomb.
Strutting the stage with a magnetic presence, Jessie is an accomplished vocalist leading the group though a range of impressive shoegaze influenced guitar pop. At times recalling Karen O, catchy melodies and homespun lyrics disguise a darker edge as refrains such as “I never wanted you anyway” betray a forthright defiance. With a tight rhythm section giving their tunes a danceable tinge, 2015 could just be their year.
Less impressive (to these ears at least) were James Skelly-endorsed, The Circles, a three-piece from Birmingham. On the face of it a mod-revival band, albeit one struggling to overcome the suffocating weight of their influences and sounding much less than the sum of their parts. On this showing they are definitely more Ocean Colour Scene than The Jam.
Sometimes the old-fashioned can work and be tremendous fun at the same time, but it’s just that this showing felt a tad flat and a little uninspired. Maybe we’re being too harsh and perhaps it was an off night, but in an era when bands are challenging expectations and pushing sonic boundaries it seems like a missed opportunity to look so far into the past without offering anything new and distinctive.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth