Live Review: Joanna Gruesome w/ King of Cats + Primetime at The Scala, Kings Cross

I love The Scala, it’s one of the few larger venues in London where you don’t feel the separation between band and audience and its crumbling opulence (highlighted today by faulty lights above the entrance proudly welcoming us to the ‘ALA’) makes it feel a little more special than a sweaty pub back room.  Tonight we’re provided with a line-up to match with three bands each splendid in their own way.

First to take to the stage are London post-punks Primetime whose spiky guitars and aggressively yelped vocals are tempered with a bit of call and response vocal and a dash of proto-girl group rock & roll reminiscent of Thee Headcoatees.  Their sound always seems to be teetering on the brink of falling apart but they keep it, and us, right there on the edge the whole way through.

Next a bespectacled chap in a stripy t-shirt, shorts and odd socks ambles onstage holding a pink guitar covered in stickers.  His name is Max Levy, aka King of Cats.  A single orange spotlight illuminates him.  Then he opens his mouth and something entirely unexpected happens.  Jaws drop along the front row, soon replaced by wide smiles.  The voice that emerges is a good couple of octaves higher than anyone expected, imbued with humour, emotion, delicacy; cracking a little in just the right places.  It should be ridiculous, even more so when after a few numbers with his band, including a couple with guest vocals from Joanna Gruesome’s Roxy Brennan, he picks up what appears to be a lute for a solo track about ‘being really good at cooking’.  But through a combination of self-effacing humour and surrealism mixed with genuine emotional rawness and with Max’s excellent timing and nervous charm it works, and far from becoming a grating novelty as one might expect, it grows into something more intriguing and engaging with each track.

All of which leads us to tonight’s headliners Joanna Gruesome, a band responsible for one of the albums of the year so far in Peanut Butter but with a new line-up following the departure of singer Alanna McArdle and new members Kate Stonestreet and Roxy Brennan joining for their first UK tour with the band.  Not that you’d know it from the performance – they look like they’ve been playing together for years.

What I love about this band is their ability to go seamlessly from gorgeous indie-pop and shoegaze textures to splintered noise punk and back again.  Listening to their music is somewhat akin to dropping a jar of honey and attempting to lick up the sugary goodness while pricking your tongue on the sharp shards hidden within.  Within the new line-up, the sweetness is provided by the lush boy-girl vocal harmonies of Brennan and guitarist Owen, while Stonestreet prowls and whirls centre stage, barking vitriol.

This is euphoric, vital and occasional angry music that demands to be heard and on tonight’s evidence, there’s no sign that a change in personnel is going to do anything to alter that.

Review and Photography by Paul Maps

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