I had been hearing great things about Fukushima Dolphin, so I made sure I was early to the Bloom launch to catch their set, and I was not disappointed. I'd seen a few low-quality YouTube videos of the band playing live, but the up-front personal experience has to be experienced. Frontman Josh Butler cuts quite an enigmatic figure, wearing hillbilly dungarees and a straw hat that covers most of his face. He plays an acoustic guitar through a wide variety of effects pedals that cook up quite a racket, and it's this, alongside his gravelly vocal, that forms the centre-piece of the band's sound. They are quite a rag-tag mob, you wouldn't necessarily guess all six of them belong to the same band when you see them scattered around the venue before the show kicks off, but they certainly make a mighty sound when they get started. It's melodic, well-orchestrated psychedelic rock and they're ones to watch.
Octopuses were up next and, surprisingly for a band who have literally just launched an EP, they avoided playing any familiar songs. Not even the title track, 'Not The Bees', got an airing as the band opted instead to try out a selection of new songs they will soon be recording for their second album. Some might have found their irreverence a step too far tonight as they, a late addition to a sold-out show, staunchly refused to play to the room. However, as a long-term follower of the group I was certainly intrigued by the new material which certainly holds some diamonds in the rough. One song called 'Cosmos' certainly pricked my ears up and 'Frogger', which the band tried out at their Not The Bees EP launch, gets another airing, with Adam Bell and Tom Matthews sharing vocal duties where they rap/sing the chorus about the titular computer game character in unison. If you're bored of the hits now is a great time to catch Octopuses live as they work out which of their new creations are worthy of inclusion on their follow-up album.
There was a hushed buzz around the room as Bloom took to the stage, the audience filling out the room with a far lower average height than I am used to seeing at local shows, making me feel a little guilty about taking position front and centre so I can grab a few photos. Later when I try to move to make room for dancers I find there's literally nowhere I can go, so I'm forced (quite willingly as it happens) to join in. The band are clearly excited and a little nervous, but they are soon put at ease as the crowd lap-up accomplished renditions of key synth pop tracks like 'Shout' and 'Not Enough'. The band are live-streaming the event over on their Facebook page and, to help this come across at that end, they've opted not to use the in-house lighting rig. As a result everything is bathed in a low sort-of twilight glow, which was a bit if a surprise as I had imagined a band with such a strong audio-visual identity would make full use of lights and projections, but that's definitely a direction they ought to consider taking in future. For tonight the two pixie-like women at the front with micro synths, acoustic guitar and mile-wide smiles do plenty to hold the audience's attention, as the guys at the back do what they do so well, holding down the grooves.
One aspect of the night that wasn't quite up to my admittedly exacting standards was the sound. I was surprised as this was my first visit to the Latest Music Bar since they've upgraded the system but there seemed to be a bit of a struggle to pump out enough volume. As a result the vocals and keyboards came out a little thin, although Octopuses seemed to suffer most from this with the sound guy struggling to work out who was going to sing lead next. There was a heckler (not me, honest!) between songs who responded to singer Megan's, "is everyone happy?" question with, "turn everything up!"
An entertaining moment comes when the band deviate from the What Is Life? album tracks to fulfil one of their kickstarter pledges. A distant fan had bought a cover of their choice, and they chose quite an obscure track from the all-American country star Billy Falcon. The difference between Falcon's 'When You Were Mine' and the version Bloom performed tonight is a testament to how well defined their own sound is. Everyone in the band knows what their approach is going to be and immediately in their hands this slice of ripe cheese morphs into a sophisticated pop tune that could have been their own. As they drew to a close Emily confessed to the audience that she has a general problem with encores so, instead they gave us ample warning we were reaching the end of the set as they played the more melancholic duo of songs, 'Tiny' and 'Letting Go'. They followed with a cover of a song from their previous incarnation, The Beautiful Word's 'Particles' which was a good choice, as it's a great song and probably the closest they got to their current sound before taking a brief hiatus and renaming themselves. They ended their set with 'Such A Shame', the album's up-beat opener and a positive moment to end a triumphant launch set on. The night was still young, as the band had DJ sets planned until the wee hours, but I snuck off knackered, only to have their single 'Shout' stuck in my head for days. Catchy buggers!