TOY - HMV Next Big Thing Festival review

'The aim tonight was surely to grab some attention'

TOY - HMV Next Big Thing Festival review

Photographer: David HowarthChris Eustace on 09 February 2012

While our goth-tinged hearts sink when we arrive at the Barfly to find that there’ll be no ground-rumbling baritone this evening, with O.Children sadly unable to appear due to “unforeseen circumstances”, the remaining pair of bands at this HMV Next Big Thing show still promised much.

First up, Red Kite, featuring ex-Cooper Temple Clause man Dan Fisher, waste no time in making an impression, with a triple guitar attack. Opener ‘Gathering Storm’ races along in anthemic fashion, recalling ‘Final Straw’-era Snow Patrol, with the stateliness of Frightened Rabbit or The National.

The slightly harsher sound of ‘Spanish Courtyard’ brought more to mind Manchester Orchestra or Conor Oberst’s side-project Desaparecidos, with backing vocals from bassist Laura Hegarty lending them the air of a grungier Win & Regine.

Red Blooded Males’ gives us the first glimpse of Fisher’s old band, starting off low and brooding but ending with the kind of wall of noise the Coopers could whip up at will. The intensity is such that the frontman’s guitar gives out and has to be swiftly replaced –“Quick! Somebody do a rap for a bit!” he quips as he tunes up.

A trumpet solo aids the funereal feel of ‘This Sun Must Burn’, and as the drums crash back in it’s difficult not to be enthralled.  While a lot of the songs the band play tonight follow the quiet/loud dynamic, the songwriting is strong enough for them not to all bleed into one, with memorable hooks such as the “Put your money where your mouth is” of the Joy Formidable-esque ‘Filling Time’.

A longer set would probably allow more light and shade to emerge, but the aim tonight was surely to grab some attention, and this engaging set definitely did that.

While the “Next Big Thing” tag opens plenty of doors for new acts, it can quickly become an albatross round the neck too, and you suspect Toy know this more than most, as three-fifths of the band used to be in Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, whose Razorlight-lite was briefly hyped a couple of years back, but things ended up turning sour so fast that their debut album was pulled on the eve of its release.

Things are very different musically, and a bit more low key, this time around. Rather than going for premature column inches, Toy have garnered approval online and honed their set at small shows, including their current residency at the Shacklewell Arms, and as they take to the stage here, they’re greeted by a large and varied crowd.

While there’s plenty of points at which you’d guess that Toy are most likely fans of all that Old Grey Whistle Test archive footage BBC4 have been showing recently, there’s a more contemporary influence too – much has been made about their kinship with The Horrors, and indeed a few songs tonight  wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Primary Colours’. Singer/guitarist Tom Dougall’s murmur is certainly Faris-like at times, but the guitar/organ interplay is too catchy and clever to dismiss them as mere pastiche or copyists.

They have a few other tricks up their sleeve anyway: the aptly-named ‘Motoring’ is an outside bet for one of those drivetime compilations, with Dougall’s Roxy Music deadpan delivery meeting some Television guitars.

There’s also shades of Bowie playfulness to be had as Alejandra Diez’s versatile organ sounds range from spacey on ‘Heart Skips A Beat’ to eerie on single ‘Left Myself Behind’, adding intrigue to an otherwise upbeat bass-driven slice of post-punk, with hair flailing around both on and off stage as the chiming guitars lead to a biting outro, something they repeat later on as a means of ending the set.

Before that happens, it’s time to marvel at the 60’s girl group-styled ‘Lose My Way’. Lamenting the end of a love affair, a bruised cry of “What did I do?” underpins one of their best songs. It sounds like a potential radio hit, should they want to live up to the festival banner they’re playing in front of tonight. As they exit amid squealing feedback and rolling spotlights, you get the feeling it might have crossed their minds.

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