Friday 24 May 2013

Drop Out Venus, Skinny Girl Diet, Ben Dodson at Sebright Arms - 22 May 2013

Skinny Girl Diet (what a picture!)

The Sebright Arms is famously hidden away down a side street and rather hard to find. As I walk along the road to the venue I find Skinny Girl Diet wandering the wrong way along the pavement. They are laden down with their gear and am pleased to point them in the right direction. I'll catch up with them later this evening.

Some hours later, I squeeze into the tiny space beneath the pub and find Ben Dodson already onstage playing a small piano keyboard.

Ben has a lovely deep and sonorous voice that rumbles round the room. He's very tall and almost has to bend over to fit on the stage. He's dressed in black threads and is sporting a hairstyle with a topknot that makes him look like a startled bird of prey.

The first thing that I notice is that he appears to be playing a song that references Drop Out Venus' 'Love + Desire'. The reason for this will become clear later on in evening.

Dodson's set progresses with him playing a guitar. His songs are long and intricate, and often declamatory in style. He's as much preacher as singer.  He ends with a drum tucked under his arm, beating a sparse tattoo and glaring confrontationally into the crowd.

I smile back at him, I like the cut of his jib.

It's over a year since I last saw Skinny Girl Diet and that thudding sound that you can hear is me now beating my head on the desk and going "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" - because tonight this band are stone cold brilliant and I've missed them so many times between then and now.

The three piece are deceptively basic - Amelia on bass seems almost too small for her instrument, teetering on massive shoes and occasionally emitting ear-splitting screams.

Singer and guitarist Delilah has a face of exquisite sadness, her eyes often closed. She is a soul singer in the original sense that the songs that she sings are deeply personal, utterly heartfelt and genuine in sentiment.

Behind the others, drummer Ursula is apparently transported by the music, almost unaware of the others. Her beaming smile lights up the room.

There is not a scintilla of archness or artifice about Skinny Girl Diet. There's a real purity of purpose about them. They rattle and thrash and they make you feel good about yourself and about them and about life itself.

Drop Out Venus are headlining tonight and have entered a new phase in their evolution, a direction which had been hinted at during the Roundhouse Studio show back in February.

The band has expanded to become a four piece and it is Ben Dodson who has been added on keyboards and occasional guitar. He and the rest of the band are now randomly splashed with blue face paint, which is all part of the 'Glitz and Glamour' campaign they are running at the moment.

They start with the new single ' Death is Screaming'. It's a weird beast of disconnected time signatures and lyrics. The band have always described themselves as 'junk jazz' and this is not an idle affectation - their current material is leading them in all sorts of odd directions, often in the same song.

The addition of keyboards is not always a good thing. The band's trademark sound is softened and at times it feels as if there are two competing acts on stage, with the intensity and violence that made the band so startling in the first place being swamped and diluted. A friend whispers to me that "they've sold out" i.e. gone commercial. It's a Dylan Goes Electric moment.

Iva Moscovitch is the same as ever- beautiful, compelling and terrifying all at once. She introduces one new piece with the promise that if "any one of you says a word during this song I will come down there and put you in the fuckin’ hospital!" She means it. No one says a word.

The addition of keyboards is not an unmitigated disaster. New song 'Pain' is a fabulous thing and the first Drop Out Venus song that could be played to a wider audience without a prior health warning.  It shimmers and throbs with a rhythm that flirts with the Gnarls Barkley track 'Crazy'.

When Dodson switches to guitar, things sound different. The lurching, staggering power that the band generates reminds me at times of The Birthday Party and that is never a bad thing.

For the encore, the band comes back and performs the only 'old' song of the night, a typically emotional read through of “I Don’t Know.”

A really enjoyable and fascinating evening. It's the first time that I've seen Drop Out Venus given a genuine run for their money, with Skinny Girl Diet stealing the show.

DOV are clearly still getting to grips with their line up change. But they are never dull, never still, never content, never afraid. They'll be just fine.

1 comment:

Godlike Genius said...

Yeah, I really enjoyed the gig, though I don't think I enjoyed DOV as much as the first time I saw them last year (?). OTOH Skinny Girl Riot (I know) were much better than last time. Wow. They were fantastic! The consequence of them playing a lot?