Saturday 16 May 2015

The Great Escape 2015 - Review (Friday)

For the review of Thursday’s Great Escape click here.

Sensible footwear is often the order of the day at music festivals, and even although Brighton’s Great Escape is an urban multi-venue event, with gigs running from mid-day to well past midnight, the chances are you’re going to be standing on your feet a lot, so being prepared for the inevitable hard surface sole-ache is a must.

Portsmouth’s Kassassin Street took that difficult mid-day slot, but there was a surprisingly decent turn out in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar for so early. If there were any hangovers in the room they were blown away by the band’s dense measure of psychedelic rock that grooved as hard as it riffed. It’s no mean achievement to get an audience dancing at such a time but Kassassin Street managed it.

The Portsmouth connection continued just yards away in Shipwrights Yard, an outdoor courtyard space that finds bands performing in a garage space. Jerry Williams (pictured below), an impossibly charming acoustic singer songwriter played every song with a smile on her face. Possessing a sugar-coated voice there was a little bit of early Kate Nash ‘check out my bum’ cheekiness in her lyrics, for example on Sunglasses she sang of boys who look at girls sneakily wearing sunglasses indoors.

Keeping the diversity going, Brighton’s Dog In The Snow played a short set of eccentric ambient pop, like a more experimental Bat For Lashes. This was followed by a short feet kind walk back to Sticky Mike’s for Nashville alt-rock band Bully. Having gained considerable critical praise over the last year a rammed show wouldn’t have been beyond possibilities, but it seemed that this particular gig (part of the free Alt-Escape event rather than the core programme) hadn’t been that well publicised and was only moderately busy. Despite the early start, Bully ripped through their set with razor-sharp, throat slashing venom. What their early 90’s grunge sound lacked in originality it made up for in sheer hollering force.

Next up was Norwegian singer Aurora (pictured below) in the tented bar café known as Spiegelpub. Arriving on stage a little late and out of breath, Aurora’s set wasn’t the electronic pop that she’s making a name for herself with, but a stripped back acoustic affair. Within thirty seconds of the show it was instantly clear that Aurora is quite brilliant. Possessing a natural innocence, a wide eyed wonder and performing in an unselfconscious manner, arms waving like a string puppet, Aurora silenced the chattering venue with a set of mesmerising songs. There was probably more goose-bumps in the Spiegelpub than the rest of the world at that moment. The highlight of the festival so far, without doubt.

Horatios is a decidedly odd place. A karaoke bar made partly from corrugated metal panel construction on the end of the pier next to a fun fair, it has a certain faded glamour British seaside charm. Throw in a hen party, some OAP regulars and a showcase by a fashion, music, art and design magazine with singer Syron belting out some club bangers backed by a DJ and 2 hip moving / arse shaking backing and alternate reality had actually become reality. Very strange.

Things got a bit more straightforward following a 15 minute trek down the seafront to Concorde 2 for Rebecca Clements, a solo singer songwriter with plenty of crestfallen lyrical anger. Describing one track, Nicotine, as ‘the most depressing song ever’, Rebecca managed to capture that sneering pissed off feeling perfectly – the polar opposite of Syron’s in ‘da club’ saucy happiness. A cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry complete with Rebecca screwing up her nose in exactly the same way Robert Smith does when he sings just added to the glorious despondency of it all. We can’t imagine Rebecca having any twerking dancers to help her out in the near future, although maybe the addition of a band to flesh out the sound would be worthwhile. Good stuff all the same. 

Following Aurora’s stunning set earlier in the day, a trip to Coalition to see her a second time became a must. Before her show London quartet Beach Baby got a few minor cheers for their song Ladybird, the band sounding a tiny bit like Joy Division if they’d lived in California and drank up sunshine rather than darkness. But these cheers were nothing in comparison with the roar and lengthy applause that greeted every song Aurora played. This time with a full band, the sound may have been far more akin to her recorded work, but it was her adorable nature, telling the crowd how wonderful it was to hear people clap and scream, combined with her uplifting and touchingly magical songs that won the day again. 2 sets, 2 highlights of The Great Escape. ‘Next big thing’ is a horrible tag to have, putting pressure on artists that they often can’t live up to, but certainly Aurora has unique star potential.

The Corn Exchange may be a vast hall, but Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s huge bluesy voice matched it equally. His song Life In Her Yet, a deeply personal track about his grandmother, managed to convey a deep intimacy despite the vastness of the room. A job well done on home turf, with a set that mixed blues, rock, soul and gospel in equal measure.

From the biggest of venues at Great Escape, to one of the smallest; at the Komedia Studio bar Cash + David seemed to be running a convention for tall people, did we miss the sign that said ‘no entry if you’re under 6’ 2”? Their hipster friendly multi-faceted guitar and sample based dance music got heads nodding without ever creating explosions. With vocalist Liz Lawrence describing Great Escape as ‘a nice day out’, this also seemed a fair assessment of Cash + David’s performance. Bigger fireworks came from the next artist. With funky rhythms, bad ass dancing and the sweetest of vocals London’s Nao (pictured top) clearly knew how to work a stage. No wonder she’s already been out on the road supporting Clean Bandit.

By the end of Friday night a lot of the crowd downstairs at Komedia were pretty drunk. It didn’t help Columbia’s Kali Uchis, a performer who has worked with Tyler the Creator and been compared to Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu and Lana Del Rey.  Winning the award for best and boldest striped trousers at the festival, her DJ only backed performance lacked in real conviction and given the short attention span of the mainly inebriated audience, she failed to convince more than a dedicated few in the front rows. A slightly disappointing end to what had otherwise been an excellent (but foot murdering) day, with one stand out star; that was Aurora.

Aurora - Awakening

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