Café Artum, a vinyl-filled setting nestled at the far end of Corporation Street, is busier than usual on this Saturday afternoon.
“This one’s for my mum, over there. This is the first time she’s ever seen me play, today” says Liám Mckeown, taking his seat in front of the window. The room grows quiet. At the back of the cafe, one guy listens to a record on headphones, seemingly oblivious.
Mckeown builds up loops of rhythm guitar before layering effortless lead over the top. Best known for his role in local psych-rock outfit Brain Food, solo he conjures up a much more mellow sound. His singer-songwriter vibe verges on jazzy at points, but always has a psychedelic tinge.
Mckeown covers Neil Young’s 1972 release ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ – it’s ambitious but heartfelt; the audience listens in stillness as the X51 bus rolls past the window behind him. The set also features stripped back versions of Brain Food songs, including ‘Lemon & Lime’ from the band’s debut EP Get One On. These feel more vocal-led than the rest of Mckeown’s performance and round off the set nicely.
The first full band of the bill, Handwaxx, have made only minor concessions to Bare Bones’ advertised ‘raw, stripped back’ ethos. New member Will Sutton, having been recruited to the group just a month ago, has traded out his Vox Phantom for an acoustic guitar, but otherwise the only thing especially stripped back about the outfit’s sound is the lack of a proper PA.
Handwaxx describe themselves as ‘psychedelic indie pop’, which seems like a fair label. Their sound blends a brit-poppish sensibility with a sprinkling of dreamy shoegaze, backed up by impressive lead guitar work from Ryan Baynham. Their set reaches a high point with the last two songs, which move in a more Morricone-esque direction. Handwaxx’s reverb drenched surfy sound is perfect for brightening up a gloomy Saturday afternoon.
The promo material for Bare Bones argued that The Mighty Young ‘could probably still melt your face off with an acoustic set’, but it’s clear we won’t find out about that today, as the only acoustic instrument on stage is the drum kit. This is loud, raucous garage rock ‘n’ roll from one of Birmingham’s trusty trios, and there’s not a Cajon in sight.
The Mighty Young have always embraced a stripped back, DIY ethos with their sound, though. Reminiscent of The White Stripes, their straight-to-the-point performance and songwriting are a joy, unphased by some minor technical hitches.
A jubilant sing-a-long cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ provides the soundtrack as one of the bar staff weaves through the dense crowd, putting tealights out on the tables – it’s grown dark out. A passerby outside stops by the window to listen, intrigued. A few younger audience members, who’ve got another ten years to wait before they can get in to any other Mighty Young shows, are growing a little restless, but the rest of the crowd are fully engaged.
As six o’ clock approaches and the trio draw things to a close with a slow, bluesy ballad; it’s clear that this inaugural Bare Bones session was a success. And although perhaps not as ‘stripped back’ as originally intended, neither the performers nor the audience seemed to mind. Watching the punters filter back out into the cold and on to the next stop on their Saturday nights, there’s a sense that things are only just beginning.
THE GALLERY: Bare Bones – with The Mighty Young, Handwaxx, Liám Mckeown @ Café Artum 01.12.18 / Ed King
For more on Liám Mckeown/Brain Food, visit www.facebook.com/brainfoodofficial
For more on Handwaxx, visit www.soundcloud.com/handwaxx
For more on The Mighty Young, visit www.facebook.com/ruttingdevil
For more on further events from Bare Bones, visit www.facebook.com/whiskpresents
For more on Café Artum, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.cafeartum.co.uk
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