Words by Ed King / Pics Paul Reynolds
Due to a late cancellation at The Sunflower Lounge, we have two extra names on the bill tonight – with North Parade and My-Hi joining Hankks, Quinn and Semantics at the Actress & Bishop. Not bad for a fiver (neither is the new Semantic EP, Acid Test… but more on that later).
But time, tide and the Number 45 bus wait for no man, and with an excellent track record of poor time keeping I rock up to the A&B just in time to catch the last song from My-Hi. Nothing like a bit of head banging at 8:30pm on a Saturday; I even have the hair for it nowadays… where’s my snakebite?
Next up is Quinn, the curious three piece fronted by the legendary Sam Lambeth. Quinn look like a fresher’s party at five in the morning, but sound like Mega City Four – for those of you who will get the somewhat archaic reference – with languid melodies disguised by fast paced distortion and an unashamed rock outlook on life. But Lambeth is a superstar in the making, with absurd confidence, deft solos and the kind of charisma that you would sign in blood to possess.
He’s a great writer too (one I tried to bring onto these pages but was trounced by the perennial lure of London) and even as a front man with sparkles from head to toe, kind to his audience – dedicating a track to “super fan Zach Aston, I heard you lost your virginity last night so this one’s for you”. But sadly, truthfully, and with the softest of kit gloves, the rest of the band fall a tad short; practice, a metronome and possibly some solo material might not be a bad idea for a while. I hear London’s quite up and coming so Lambeth should be in luck. For everything else there’s always Amazon.
A case of mistaken identity later and I’m wrestling my cider back from Hankks’ drummer, before the polka dot fronted four piece take to the stage. An honest mistake, but I can be a shallow man when it comes to alcohol. Mercifully Hankks are solid as a rock, with a tight (albeit slightly detached) set of bouncing grunge rock with little to let it down. Little to really remember too, and once my more learned friend noticed “they sound like an early Green Day” that’s all I could hold in my head. But keep on trucking lads; you got mustard in there.
Then the lights go down, the mood shifts, and the most well dressed (and amongst the loveliest) band in Birmingham take their place centre stage. With a new EP on the table, literally, Semantics kick off their headline set.
DISCLAIMER: Birmingham Review is lucky enough to get a fair number of bands and musicians reach out to us, but the one’s that do it with kindness and candor (and enough advance notice) stand a much better chance of getting covered. Take note – this probably applies beyond our pages too. But that doesn’t mean we will them write a good review. An honest review, yes, but you have to earn your gold stars.
Josh RB, Semantics‘ bass player, has been a joy to get to know – even bouncing over to give me a big hug and introduce their front man, Rob Lilley, whom I had not yet met (please don’t hug all our reviewers). So I’m nervous now. What if they’re shit. I am ruthless about honesty from the Birmingham Review contributors so should probably lead by example. A few minutes pass and I’m more nervous… seriously, what if they’re really shit.
Opening with an instrumental, Semantics sound is immediate; a brooding backdrop pierced by clear and dominating riffs (SECOND DISCLAIMER: I am not a musician). Then it’s the title track from the reason we’re here, as ‘Acid Test’ introduces the mournful lament of Rob Liley’s vocals – albeit somewhat let down by the sound desk – and the dark but beautiful box he wants our kisses wrapped up in.
‘A cut above’ is what I tap into Samsung Notes, before adding some nonsense about ‘sense and sensibility’ and spending the next 5 minutes looking for a glockenspiel.
But Semantics clearly know what they’re doing, as the set builds into a quite ferocious wall of sound (sorry, but the cliché is too appropriate not to use) adding layer upon glorious goth layer and dragging the audience into the stage with invisible fish hooks. I think, by now, I’m dancing, or an approximation of this. But the floor has to make room some as first Josh RB, then Bridie Green, step out into the crowd for a well controlled showcase.
This is when I stop writing (or an approximation of this) – Semantics, here tonight, are just too fucking good. Its a show; a proper gig. And aside from the vocals being squashed into a cotton wool pancake (seriously sound desk…?) the audio is awesome, the delivery is near perfect, and the look is… well, working.
I wasn’t sure if the stylised nature of this band would stand up in a live setting, and I was worried that the spectre of Ian Curtis would be too much of a distraction, but Semantics own every inch of their set with confidence and grace.
And because I also ask our contributors to try and find a counterpoint – what I call the ‘velvet glove punch’ – I shall end an overwhelmingly positive review with a word of warning. In fact I’ll end with three: Joy, Division, careful.
For more on Semantics, visit www.soundcloud.com/semanticsuk
For more on Hankks, visit https://soundcloud.com/hankks
For more on Quinn, visit www.soundcloud.com/quinn-580556457
For more from Actress & Bishop, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.facebook.com/Actressandbishop
For more from Birmingham Promoters, visit www.birminghampromoters.com