Live Review: Pom Poko + Saltwater Sun at The Shacklewell Arms

Since the first track I heard from Pom Poko, ‘Follow the Lights’, I knew I wanted to see them live. Then I reviewed the new album ‘Birthday’ for Joyzine and knew I REALLY wanted to see them live. I got my chance at the compact Shacklewell Arms where I was fuelled by anticipation and the local beer ‘Five Points Pale’.

5-piece Reading band Saltwater Sun opened the night with a strong set of indie power pop. The majority of their songs blend light-touch sections with the hammer blow of power chords, sparkling riffs and drums from the force of the band: Dan Kingham and Joel Neale (guitars), Rob Carter (bass) and Benny Chandler (drums). And above this steamroller of sound sits the vocal force of Jennifer Stearnes, blue hair shimmering under the stage lights and her voice making sense of everything. She elevates the tracks and adds a quality that should help them go far. I imagine loads of radio stations will love them and suspect they are not far from a support slot for someone like My Chemical Romance or Fallout Boy. Stand out tracks were ‘The Wire’, ‘Hot Mess’ and the single ‘Blood’.

Whereas Saltwater Sun were brooding and dark, Pom Poko took to the stage smiling and brimming with energy. The opening track of the album ‘Theme #1’ was also the opening track of the gig and suddenly the air was alive with frenetic chords, riffs, bass runs and drum fills. I’d been pondering before the gig whether they would be able to recreate the album live, assuming there were overdubs to fill out the recorded sound, but gloriously the album sound is all Pom Poko.

The band is barely 2 years old but they play with an ease and assurance way beyond their time together. There are complicated rhythms with mercurial tempo changes and stops and starts (‘My Blood’ and ‘Crazy Energy Night’). There are earthy chords, fuzz, and blistering glissando guitar runs but I don’t feel they just showing off their technical skill. They are full of soul and joy and light and create a whole that crackles with infectious delight. It astounds me that Pom Poko produce such rich, complex music when there are only four of them: Ragnhild Fangel (vocals), Martin Miguel Tonne (guitar), Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums). I was reminded of a quote about Billy Cobham: “He doesn’t have 8 arms, it only sounds like it”. Pom Poko don’t have 7 members it only sounds like it.

The set seems to go in the blink of an eye with the band bouncing and grinning throughout and they seemed genuinely blown away by the howling enthusiasm from this Friday-night crowd. Were there any stand out tracks? Yes, ALL OF THEM! I can’t wait to see them live again (and again, and again) and I would urge anyone reading to check out the album Birthday.

Review & Photography by Paul Cook

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