OXFORD PUNT, 11TH MAY 2016
Kicking off this year's Punt - Nightshift's annual one-night showcase for the Oxford music scene, featuring 20 acts across five city-centre venues - are MOOGIEMAN & THE MASOCHISTS. This being the Punt and the venue being the Purple Turtle, they are of course late. One song, with its repeated line "I want to shoot you again and again", nods vaguely in the direction of the Velvet Underground, but otherwise the true masochists are those of us in the audience, expected to stomach horrible synths, songs about "complicated girls" being like quicksand and pseudo-intellectual lyrical references to existentialism.
It's been nearly a year since I saw THE BECKONING FAIR ONES (Wheatsheaf) make their live debut, during which time they've bulked up considerably (at least partly thanks to a powerful new rhythm section) and gained or even surpassed the intensity of frontman Niall's previous outfit Dallas Don't. Even a song about going on holiday seems to rouse him to vein-popping fury, while the ear-chafing Mogwai-esque coda to final track 'Billy' ensures a thrilling climax.
SLATE HEARTS (Cellar) are incontrovertible proof that, in the year Nevermind turns 25, the grunge revival has reached Oxford. The bassist's dungarees and the choice of Placebo's 'Every You Every Me' as a fig leaf to cover over a technical issue might be deemed questionable, but they've got the stage presence, the hair, the youthful exuberance and perhaps even the songs to excuse any errors of judgement. My inner 16 year old has a new favourite band.
CHEROKEE (Wheatsheaf) are here not so much to play a set as to put on a show. Bassist/vocalist Jack appears to be wearing a matador's jacket and sombrero (though the latter is soon frisbeed out over the heads of the crowd) while drummer Felixx is dressed as either a droog or a dissolute morris dancer (we're not quite sure which). Appropriately enough, their thunderous alliance of Royal Blood's beef and Iron Maiden's theatrics proves to be ultraviolent with bells on.
The itchy, scratchy post-punk of THESE ARE OUR DEMANDS (White Rabbit) is neither ineffective nor unlikeable, but with that name you do wish that they'd fully commit to holding a pub full of people hostage.
Portishead's lax work ethic might be the cause of much exasperation to fans, but not to STEM (Cellar), who seem eager to capitalise on the Bristolians' protracted silences. They don't exactly deal in spectacle, and the bass should be significantly louder (loud enough to rattle fillings loose, ideally), but there's nevertheless enough about their music - portentous without being pretentious - to captivate.
Countless bands split citing personal or musical differences; far fewer have the nerve and courage to stay together despite them for the greater good. The misfit members of TOO MANY POETS (Wheatsheaf) look as though they're not so much on two different pages as two different planets, but the creative tension that ensues is precisely what makes them currently one of Oxfordshire's most intriguing and original bands, located somewhere in the hinterland between Bauhaus and Soundgarden and destined for a cult following.
Like Slate Hearts before them, LUCY LEAVE (White Rabbit) appear to be doing their best to convince us that dungarees are perfectly acceptable apparel for people who are neither painters/decorators nor convict characters in O Brother Where Art Thou? They're also nicely noisy bastards, heavier than predecessors on the White Rabbit stage These Are Our Demands - though I don't see enough to pass proper judgement. No matter - no doubt we'll meet again.
(Parts of this review appear in the June issue of Nightshift.)