Words by Jay Dyer / Pics by Claire Leach
I have long been an admirer of The Victoria. It’s a quaint, traditional pub, at the heart of this vastly changing city – one which has not been hit quite as hard by the wide gentrification across the road, in the new (sterile) Grand Central/New Street station. Plus The Victoria has a wonderful stage room upstairs, which is sadly not utilised enough. It is the perfect venue for the city; it’s neither too large nor too small, and I am joyed (and somewhat surprised) to see The Hungry Ghosts on their bill – blowing away the establishment’s Tuesday night cobwebs.
I arrive early, embark up the stairs and into the gig room. I take another look at the date on my phone to make sure I have the right night, as I find myself all alone. The date is right. I grab a beer and waste a bit of time downstairs so I look less weird. As I swig from my glass of unpronounceable lager, finally people arrive so I head back upstairs to find Terror Watts setting up their equipment.
Terror Watts are a band that I enjoy live and tonight is no different. They hit you with bursts of energy, married with fine-tuned garage rock songs. In other words everything I love to see live. Their set is tight as can be too, something I imagine has taken some time in the practice room to get right. However I am getting a strong sense of déjà vu; it takes 2 or 3 songs for it to dawn on me that Terror Watts have not altered their set in the slightest since I last saw them. With such a condensed music scene in Birmingham, being original and taking pride in variety is key to making a name for yourself. Terror Watts ignite with a flash to some delight, but after a while I long for something bigger.
The next band on stage are Goat Girl, a 4-piece garage rock outfit from London. Goat Girl have recently signed to Rough Trade so I feel a bit of buzz and anticipation for what’s to come. On paper, they are everything I love in a band; raw garage rock, forged through simple chord structure and dancing harmonic melodies, is what I absolutely yearn for. I’ve listened to some of Goat Girl’s music online and I love it, it really engages with me with its energy and production.
However, after they finally get pulled away from their cocktails downstairs (where Goat Girl have been residing all night) they embark on a set which neither inspires or encapsulates my eager mind. Tonight Goat Girl come across as overly self-absorbent, looking as if they’re only thinking about what next to order from the cocktail menu.
The music I loved so much on record is diluted by a lack of live dynamic range; the set is void of energy. I want to shout, “hey, it’s a Tuesday, it’s not a big crowd, but show some energy to those who came out to see you”. Somewhere buried deep down I can hear some wonderful hooks and rhythms, but played with such reluctance they lose the audience in large parts. Goat Girl do play well, I just don’t ‘get’ what they are trying to do live. But somehow they bagged themselves a Rough Trade deal.
The Hungry Ghosts are next up, bringing their self-titled ‘slaughterhouse blues’ to the stage. The four piece have been making quite a name for themselves over the past few months; The Hungry Ghosts have recently released their debut Blood Red Songs EP and played a barrage of shows around the country.
The Victoria‘s upstairs venue has now filled to about half capacity, which is alright for a Tuesday night, and The Hungry Ghosts’ set is an unforgiving and brutal display – marrying gloomy bass with screaming highs. Each song is played with such precision and energy it makes them perfect to watch; effortlessly playing their way through a destructive set.
Front man, Joe Joseph, becomes a focal point of the performance as he looms over the microphone with one eye darting behind his cascading hair. It really is the eyes; they unnerve me slightly. They remind me of an overly exuberant actor I watched portraying the blind old man in a performance of ‘Antigone’ a few years back.
Joe Joseph seems to react to every single movement of the music, his body jolting with the beat. This is peaked when he ends up laying in the foetal position in the middle of the audience, screaming into the microphone.
There’s nothing ‘quaint’ or ‘traditional’ about The Hungry Ghosts, but they can fill up a room no matter how many people are in there with them. When you go to watch The Hungry Ghosts you are watching a band perfectly navigate the line between destruction and control; I absolutely love it.
For more on The Hungry Ghosts, visit www.thehungryghosts.co.uk
For more on Goat Girl, visit www.facebook.com/goatgirlofficial
For more on Terror Watts, visit www.facebook.com/terrorwatts
For more from The Victoria, visit www.thevictoriabirmingham.co.uk