Words by Steve Crawford / Pics by Denise Wilson
It’s good to see that all the band members got the memo regarding dress code. Not strictly a band uniform as such, but the grey-ish monotone garb, along with more or less matching haircuts, give them a gratifying Gang of Four/Winston Smith dystopian-future citizen look.
As the rest of the band take their places, guitarist Pete Broadhead picks up the ELP riff on his black Stratocaster prompting front-man Duncan Wallis to christen him “Prog Pete”. The entrance music fades and Dutch Uncles launch into tonight’s gig with a “two-for-one” set opener: ‘Baskin’ and ‘Some Plane Dream’ – both from their new album, Big Balloon.
And so begins… Dutch Uncles’ fifth appearance at the Hare and Hounds, on the fifth date of the tour, promoting their fifth album. Tonight the four founding members are joined by touring guitarist Neil Wright and Prog Pete’s brother, Henry Broadhead, on Casio synth – or the “glorified calculator” as it is referred to. “50 quid off EBay, honestly the sounds he can get out of it – the man’s a genius,” Wallis tells the crowd.
Next up is the pumping rhythmic ‘Cadenza’, from the album of the same name, which gets heads nodding and bopping in the audience. It’s a good turnout for a Monday night; the large room in the Hare and Hounds is near to full.
Dutch Uncles are on top form, much more powerful and energetic than they are on record and obviously accomplished musicians. A variety of sounds are summoned that reference their influences: Eighties style synths stutter, chirrup, drone and loop; guitars are urgent and spiky. It’s all propelled along by Robin Richards’ thunkingly tight bass and Andy Proudfoot’s precise drumming, holding those pesky “atypical” time-signatures in check.
Seven tracks from Big Balloon are played tonight; ‘Sink’, the slower ‘Comb Box’ and ‘Achameleon’ are omitted, the latter for reasons of difficulty in learning to play live or so Wallis informs us (I suspect with an element of tongue in cheek). ‘Achameleon’ is replaced by the Japan-esque ‘Tidal Weight’ from 2015’s O Shudder; Wallis’s vocals conjuring David Sylvian.
Distinctive voice. Distinctive stage moves. Duncan Wallis is a natural front-man. He’s captivating to watch as he uses the medium of dance to interpret the songs, moving like a body-popping Kung-Fu Ian Curtis with a dash of Jarvis Cocker thrown in.
As well as vocal and dancing duties, Wallis also has piano and marimba duties to execute, all of which he seems to do at the same time. This is impressively demonstrated during ‘Threads’, from Out of Touch in the Wild, which sees Wallis not only sing and dance but along with Pete Broadhead perform an impressively fast marimba duet.
Unfortunately it does include a slight mishap as Wallis messes up what, to an untrained eye, seems a relatively straightforward piano part? “Sorry,” he says to both band and audience “but I’ve fucked up that piano part every night so far on this tour”. Although, to be fair, he’s just taken multi-tasking to a brand new level. The only other mistake tonight involves Prog Pete, who plays one extra single note on the marimba – a fact that would have gone unnoticed by most had it not been for Wallis gleefully pointing it out. Harsh.
Set closer is ‘Big Balloon’ – the title track from the new album, and it’s well received. But ‘Flexxin’, played in the encore and probably the Dutch Uncles’ most popular track, is the biggest hit of the night and something of a treat for birthday boy Henry Broadhead. Having reached the dangerous age of 27 he is allowed make any sound he likes on his Casio calculator as way of an intro into it.
The final song of the main set is ‘Dressage’ – a more guitar driven number than most, it’s the Prog Rock experience in a three minute pop song.
I’ll be honest, it took me a while to come around to the Dutch Uncles on record and I was never sure how well their material would work when played live. The dictionary definition of a Dutch Uncle is: ‘someone who issues frank, harsh or severe comments & criticism to educate, encourage or admonish’.
After tonight’s performance I feel both admonished for doubting Dutch Uncles as a live act, and educated in just how vital it is to see bands playing live to fully appreciate them.
For more on Dutch Uncles, visit www.dutchuncles.co.uk
For more from the Hare & Hounds, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk
For more from This Is Tmrw, visit www.thisistmrw.co.uk