Live Reviews

SPEEDY ORTIZ | HAPPYNESS | HIGH TIDE 15:47 – LIVE REVIEW – THE CLUNY, NEWCASTLE, 13/08/2014

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

It’s 2014. Social media governs 95% of our lives. We now know that we can charge our phones with our sweat, and Manchester City and Chelsea are set to kick off a new Premier League season that will surely end in one of them holding the trophy aloft. Under the roof of The Cluny on Wednesday, though, it could so easily have been the mid nineties, where a Twitter was nothing more than the utterings of a particularly annoying budgie, mobile phones could double up as house bricks, and Shearer and Sutton were firing Blackburn Rovers to their first (and only) Premier League title.

All three of the bands on show on Wednesday night have filled their own melting pots with generous helpings from the 90s grunge and alternative rock buffets, amalgamating some already patented musings with their own off-kilter blueprints, ultimately creating their own, semi-indebted sounds. The lineup itself offered the prospect of an evenings viewing worth every penny of the £9 admission fee, with headliners Speedy Ortiz dropping one of the best records of 2013 in Major Arcana, and Happyness boasting one of the better ones of 2014 thus far with Weird Little Birthday. The night’s opening act, High Tide 15:47, describe their sound on their Facebook page as ‘a fuzzy twist on influences from the shoegaze and dream-pop scenes of the late 80s and early 90s’. Ooer.

It’s safe to say that the evening’s entertainment lived up to expectations and then some. Speedy Ortiz and Happyness were all too happy to rock up early and watch High Tide open up, and it soon transpired that they weren’t lying on their Facebook page. Woozy basslines governed a handsomely meshed conglomerate of MBV-indebted shoegaze and Dinosaur Jr.-tinged noise rock, and the effect was that of hazy hooks, and a very attractive arrangement overall.

Happyness were next up. As I mentioned earlier, their debut LP that dropped a couple of months back really is a good’n (see the lyrical we waxed on Weird Little Birthday here), and I was eager to hear how their highbrow adaptation of the slacker rock motif would sound in such an intimate venue. Again, the effect was excellent, with their setlist comprising the Marcy Playground-esque playful grunge, Pixies-esque frenetics and Smashing Pumpkins amp settings in expert fashion. Their thoroughly deadpan stage craic mirrored the sardonic smirks and exquisite wit that hallmarked the LP, and Jonny Allan’s get-up of double denim and early 90s Reeboks did nothing to bring us back to the present day. The London 3-piece are introverted, and absolutely airtight.

Happyness disappeared with around half of the audience in tow, only for the masses to seemingly multiply upon their return, just in time for Speedy taking to The Cluny’s snug stage. Anyone who has had the privilege of wrapping their lugs around Major Arcana will know that Speedy have a huge sound. In parts it sounds disheveled, with teetering, evasive guitar melodies vying with tangled rhythms and Sadie Dupuis’s sparkling, dainty vocals, but its structure remains meticulously organized and extremely quirky. Over the course of an hour, Dupuis spearheaded a roam through her band’s repertoire, showcasing tunes from the Sports and Real Hair EPs, her self-recorded bedroom demo LP that ultimately conceived Speedy Ortiz, a couple of tracks from Major Arcana and a few new tunes for good measure. Drummer Matt Falcone took up the mantle of providing some repartee, drawing a few laughs after a less than enthusiastic reaction to Sadie announcing they were to perform some new tracks. “If you go see Vanilla Ice you want to see Ice Ice Baby, you don’t care what he’s been up to for the last six months” was the tongue-in-cheek comparison of choice. Nevertheless, the Speedy blueprint was present throughout. Highlights without doubt included the combative, distortion-drenched Tiger Tank and the perceptive yet droll Plough from Major Arcana, with new tune Bigger Party sounding superb in the confines of The Cluny to boot.

The Cluny is one of the most intimate venues I’ve been to, and I’m delighted to say it still boasts the same sublime beer selection and exceptional acoustics that it always has. Speedy Ortiz were extremely accomplished, and transferred the Pavement-hooked semantics and sobering, whip-smart lyrical delivery heard on their debut LP to the live show expertly. To a lot of people, Speedy are the pinnacle of female-fronted indie rock right now, and I saw nothing to disprove that particular view on Wednesday night. They have used their influences cleverly to manifest their own dexterous blueprint, but if I were to be picky, I’d have liked to have seen more than 2 tracks from Major Arcana, an album I loved straight away (and I must admit to being surprised that Sadie didn’t pull No Below in particular from her bag of tricks). It was, however, great to hear some previously unheard tunes to whet the appetite for the band’s next release. As always, an excellent evening at The Cluny, with 3 airtight bands at the start of their fledgling careers, promising much and providing an alluring insight into the 90s alt. rock scene.

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