Apologies to Jaguar Cub who were slated to open this night at Sticky Mikes’s, due to a mildly excessive Troll’s Pantry wait – they were not witnessed by Brighton Noise. The burger was outstanding, though.
Nitzam must be the most “un-Brighton” band around at the moment, resolutely uncool with an strangely northern feeling to them. The singer and lead guitarist had a John Squire meets Pearl Jam vibe and their sound seemed very nineties, a decade some of the band can’t have witnessed much of due to their tender age. Vocalist Jack Bartop, had a nasal but melodic singing style, similar to Eddie Vedder and is definitely a capable front man. Interestingly attired lead guitarist Jake Stow, loved the whammy bar and his reverb heavy accompaniments glided over the din very nicely. Unfortunately, the rhythm section were one-paced and the songs soon become interchangeable, with the rhythm guitar in particular stuck in “ride the wave” mode. An unnamed slowy containing the unfortunate line “You are the one who sends me to sleep.” fares no better than the more standard sound. There’s definitely a market for this band but probably not at Crystal Antlers’ gigs.
Though, on this evening’s evidence, identifying psych/garage rockers Crystal Antlers audience was troublesome. A group of around 40 to 50 were left once the support had disappeared and whilst there may have been excuses of other shows in town this gig had already been downgraded to a freebie. There was a sense of unease at this situation prior to the performance and this could have killed the night before it started. This scenario was at the same time completely undeserved but not entirely surprising.
Dealing with the “completely undeserved” first, Crystal Antlers are a better band than the one that wowed a packed Blind Tiger in 2009. Line-up changes have robbed them of the visual element their additional percussionist Damian Edwards added but with a capable drummer like Kevin Stuart, he felt a bit superfluous back then anyway. He commanded his kit and his quick-fire fills and reliable timekeeping amongst the chaotic sound were essential. At times he’s a one man polyrhythm generator. Vocalist/bassist Jonny Bell manhandled his instrument, fingers flying all over the frets and his vocals have improved now mixing a deep croon, along with the electrifying screams of old. Half-way through the set he moved his microphone stand off the stage and into the crowd to engage with his people for the remainder of the gig– it was an inspiring and inspired move. The guitar added the noise whilst the organ offers subtle but not insubstantial melody.
The “not entirely surprising” comment comes from a feeling that Crystal Antlers missed their time. Hyped around the time of their self-titled debut EP – represented tonight by traditional set closer and highlight ‘Parting Shot For A Torn Sky,’ a bass led behemoth of psych-rock – their two subsequent albums both suffered from poor production. It’s a pity because the songs played from those records excel, especially a cathartic ‘Andrew’ with it’s clever serenade like chorus juxtaposed with a thrashy verse. New album Nothing Is Real is well represented in the setlist and was a worthy attempt to recover lost ground through stripping back the songs, keeping to traditional structures and letting Jonny Bell’s voice take more of the limelight. Punky single ‘Licorice Pizza’ in particular stood out. It just feels a little like they’ve abandoned what made them unique and entered a very crowded scene that currently is dominated by fellow Californian’s Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. It’s a shame because on tonight’s evidence they still have a huge amount to offer, even in trying circumstances.