POST LOCKDOWN REVIEW NUMBA 6, I never get paid to do these or use press tickets, it's just events that I've gone to and felt like there was a story there, you can read my other ones here, blah blah blah LET'S GO
One of my last gig memories pre-lockdown was seeing alternative pop queen Caroline Polachek play a headline show at Heaven. I didn't have a great time, the back of some guy’s head was in my face and the winking warmth of her music is harder to enjoy when you can’t dance. The next night I caught Ariwo - 'a cuban/Iranian band focused on the intersection of electronic and ancestral music' - at the Pickle Factory, which was at about half capacity, and that was fucking great, it’s weird how a band not being too big can allow them to play a gig in London that feels like way more of a special occasion, where the crowd can express itself beyond screams and "yeah!"s, rather than being flattened by the classic 'big gig' rush of hype and personal space invasions.
I've written five post-lockdown reviews so far and all of them have been for clubnights, not live gigs, but this sixth event review covers a night of live performances curated by a singer named Jenny Alien, at a café tucked away in a Bermondsey industrial estate, ten minutes' walk from the nearest cashpoint.
My mate and I came along as we know one member of the band Megalash and like his stuff, although the band hadn't released anything online yet. We arrived at 7:50pm and found out that Megalash were on last (10:30pm), so we got a couple of Estrellas and sat down outside for a catch up. We sank a few glugs and chatted about various silly stories, before a drag queen named Rose Harding in a polite dress with a gentle Scottish accent told us that they were about to start. We went inside, and were greeted by Hard Out Here by Lily Allen being blasted off the speakers via a Spotify playlist prepared by Harding, “Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits, it's hard, it's hard, it's hard out here for a bitch...”
Harding introduced herself, told us that she was married to the Vicar, and would like to share some thoughts with us from women's Bible study. She read us a couple of excerpts from the one true mouthpiece of the Lord whilst the next tune from her Spotify playlist played, Pachelbel: Canon in D, P.37 (ie: the first tune that comes up when you google 'wedding music'). The first excerpt described Eve’s creation, and second was a psalm describing the perfect woman in exhaustive detail (at one point Harding affectionately quipped that "she's a busy bitch isn't she!"). It was a funny performance, funny because it took a second to process how fucking genius it was, how much sense it made, how it was making fun of religion and gender roles and asserting a queer identity without ever feeling overbearing or obvious, it was just fun and honest, the implicit criticisms made all the more funny by Harding's affectionate tone. After reading out the biblical introduction of woman, she said "men are great, but the problem is they have no idea what they’re doing!" and launched straight into a full kareoke rendition of Lily Allen’s Not Fair, perfect. I can so imagine Lily Allen watching this as a guest judge on Ru Paul’s Drag Rave and absolutely losing her shit. (this photo is nabbed from Harding's instagram, not from the event)
Once Harding's set was over we headed back outside and chatted for a bit longer. A super punchy rock band named Girl Gruel (whose insta bio is "ANGERY DYKES WHO WANNA BE HELD") came on inside, and they sounded great but our seats were comfy and my mate and I had much to catch up on (my life is fucking packed with dramas atm) and frankly I am a little old man who struggles with reverbed guitars and diy punk just as much as I struggle with drama, so we stayed outside and chatted a bit longer. Sorry Girl Gruel, I promise to check you out next time I'm not a shadow of a man!
Then the second act came on, Jenny Alien, playing a track named Cornerstore that started with the following lyrics: “I saw you at the cornerstore, you were looking at some other chick, I walked past with confidence, and then you were like ‘damn can I buy you some chips?’… chips… chips… chips…” The ironic lyrics and bleepy synths built up to a super bizarre breakdown with ghost-in-a-sheet "oooooaaaaahhhhhh!" screams and thrashing guitars. From that point on they continued to crank up the energy, peaking the brutal donk beats of party anthem Welcome 2 My House, containing the lyrics "the only rule is that we got no rules bitch!"
It was very Ke$ha on ketamine, or maybe if I was being a bit more lazy I’d describe it as Hyperpop. Hyperpop is a genre that Pitchfork have been pushing in the last few years, and I’m not mad about it, although I love its forbears Sleigh Bells, one of the best live bands that I’ve seen. Well you know what, Jenny Alien is also awesome live, over the course of their set it became obvious that the band were living for this shit, that the humourous elements of their music were cathartic, a bonfire of mosh-fuel and self expression. There was a bunch of girls dancing around and shouting and moshing and really going the distance to respond to the music with their moves, to the point that I assumed they were here specifically to see Jenny Alien, before realising they were that Girl Gruel band. This made me feel bad about missing them, partly because they looked cool, and partly because they seemed to galvanise Jenny Alien and the rest of the audience, a reminder that great scenes are fueled by people who aren't afraid to properly get involved. (the following photos are from my instagram stories, yes I took a bunch of instagram vids from the side of the mosh pit with my hand stretched up above my head like a fuckin loser)
Jenny's whole vibe came to a head with an awesome cover of Rockstar by Nickelback that I really hope gets released online someday. I was like 12 years old when that track came out and didn't really like it that much, although this changed during a recent singalong I had with some mates, when I realised that the track is actually genius, even though it's by Nickelback. After the show we barreled back to the smoking area, and found ourselves chatting with Jenny Alien about Rockstar; she wondered after if its genius was unintentional, that Nickelback accidentally made something kind of sad and raw in their quest for a feel good hit and. I feel like it’s got this perfect, rare distillation of a kind of unrepentant trashiness that is central to the Jenny Alien experience. She asked my friend and I what music we liked, I said that we have a lot of crossover, but that my mate's distinct tastes could best be described as ‘spooky music’, like music that’s tense and mysterious but a little too playful to feel threatening, whereas as I like music which is melancholy but a little too beautiful to feel depressing. Of course we weren’t talking in such careful terms at the time, I'm just trying to get it all clear now, back in the smoking area he laughed at my suggestion that his taste is basically just ‘spooky music’ and we imagined his CD collection being filled with ‘Halloween Vibes volume 1-20’, every album having a spider’s web on it.
Suddenly Megalash were on, we headed in and nabbed a spot to the left of the space right in front of the speakers (buy earplugs kids!!!). As they began their first track, the aforementioned Girl Gruel girls swayed and skulked about, and my friend turned around to me with a massive grin on his face, “this could definitely be described as spooky music, and yes I do love it.”
And you know what, I loved it too! I mean the whole set wasn’t spooky, some of the tracks were moody and some were anthemic bops, but I loved it from the moment that it began. The music was dancey and seductive, richly layered with a crystalline guitar lines, electronic 808 beats and live cymbals, and separate vocals from the drummer, bassist and synth player. The synth player had released this amazing track named Euphoria under his Cindy’s Pearl moniker, celebrating England’s bid to win the 2021 Europearn Football Cup and channelling this hype along with the general desire we all had for post lockdown bliss, I absolutely rinsed it for a couple of beautiful weeks, “we’ve been hibernating, it’s been a couple rough years… there’s better things on the horizon, like cold fizzy later flowing through my veins.” I wouldn't have know if the Avalon Cafe gig was happening if I hadn't bumped into Caleb / Cindy’s Pearl at a PC Music event last week, mentioned that I had loved that Euphoria track, and appreciated the way that it combines acid house and post-punk. He said that the band he’s in now has a similar sound, I should come and check them out. He was right, if anything Megalash is like a fully realised, high fidelity version of that track, and it’s crazy how good the band sounded live, close your eyes and you'd think you were listening to a fully mastered LP, open then and the sound's dynamism is on full show.
It reminded me of The Paradox, Jeff Mills’ new band who I saw at Naked City; each of the members were characterful enough that you could just focus on them, or just let yourself sink into the unified sound. The Paradox and Megalash both used a synthetic drum machine, which just sounds so great on a proper sound system (particularly to House music lovers like myself), and I loved how Megalash also had a live drummer and bass guitarist to play on top of it, resulting in beats that felt both futuristic and grounded, like a monorail gliding through London’s acidic rain. My favourite tracks had a kind of transcendent melancholy, energised by the beats and fleshed out by the rich guitar lines and positivity minty, staccato synth lines, brief blasts of emotion from Caleb's keyboard. Actually it's hard to say which my favourite tracks were as none of them are online yet, I only heard them them at that gig, and they were so great.
When the show ended the crowd shouted for more, the band responded that they literally don't have any more tracks. I shouted 'Scratchcard!', referring to one of the slower tunes that found poetry in the hopelessness of gambling, and some of the other crowd members shouted 'Elevator!', cueing the band to ask how we already knew their track names, guys your music was sick! They opted to re-play a fast paced banger named John Smith, replete with rave sirens and chants of 'Wetherspoons!' What a sick night, and what great curation, I love how all of the artists had a balance of cheeky humour and total seriousness, gorgeous stuff, top marks all around.