It was great to see Gengahr back in Brighton again, just over a year after they kicked off their first UK tour at the Komedia. Without any new material online to tease fans ahead of these shows, and after quite a long period of radio silence, I did find myself wondering what sort of a crowd the guys were going to be able to pull tonight. I needn’t have been concerned though, it seems that during their absence word-of-mouth has continued to travel about Gengahr. While they took to the Green Door Store’s stage for an extended line check of their instruments the room filled up with young, beaming faces and we prepared to settle in for a night of groovy, dreamy guitar pop.
Quite early on in the set lead singer, Felix Bushe, explained that they would be using tonight to try out some new material from the album they are in the midst of recording. I love seeing bands at this stage: trying out songs they are still coming to grips with themselves. An early look at some gems from an album mid-production. Of the five new tracks they tried on us tonight I’d say ‘Broken Wing’ was the most obvious future single with it’s hooky refrain of, “over now, oh, over now”. Altogether these tracks were not straightforward verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs though, for the most part, twisting and turning arrangements that will need repeated listens to fully absorb. So then it’s hard to get too deep into them, but the impression I’ve got is they represent a steadily maturing Gengahr, without straying too far from the sound established on A Dream Outside. From the new song they opened with, ‘Mallory’, with it’s brilliantly melodic guitar riff, I found myself thinking how much their sound in general reminds me of Radiohead around the time of their second album, The Bends, albeit enhanced by a wider and somewhat different selection of beats. For me that’s really exciting, having been maybe just a touch too young to appreciate that seminal album the first time round, here is a young group innovating in a similar direction, and I can watch it all take shape first hand.
Besides the new songs their set was a very well chosen tour through the highlights of last year’s debut album, even including my personal (perhaps slightly offbeat choice) of the dubby near-instrumental ‘Dark Star’. ‘Tired Eyes’ from the EP that followed the album (or the deluxe version of the album depending on when you got into the band) was still sounding fresh and older songs and early singles like ‘Heroine’, ‘Fill My Gums With Blood’ and ‘Dizzy Ghosts’ sounded like new life had been breathed into them. Guitarist John Victor was pulling all the shapes and showing off his masterful tone, just as before, but his backing vocals seemed to have improved and worked vitally to help lift choruses along with ‘Danny Ward’ on drums, with his reliable falsetto and effortless beats. Bass player Hugh Schulte is a linchpin of the sound and, if it were anyone else, I might complain to say his on-stage sound was a little on the loud side. I was right in front of him, so his amp was blaring in my face, but I love his bass playing, melodic and rhythmical, even getting away with bass chords on more than one occasion, so I won’t moan!
Felix seems to have grown in confidence as a front man and his vocals were sounding great tonight, using the familiar falsetto ably and utilising more of his full tenor than I had heard on their last tour, a few of the verses on the new songs showed it off and he opened up in the final chorus of set closer ‘She’s A Witch’, which really brought that track home. ‘She’s A Witch’ and ‘Embers’ were both major highlights of the set tonight, where the last time I saw them they had fallen a little flat. Only their second UK tour and Gengahr have already overcome the temptation to play everything faster and harder. The dynamics and sophistication of these two songs was at a higher level than I’d seen from the band before, with ‘She’s A Witch’ producing a room full of grins and even some appreciative, polite moshing from the middle of the crowd. As I left the crowd I overheard one young man complaining that the band hadn’t played ‘Haunter’, the b-side to ‘She’s A Witch’. I felt like telling him he’d missed the point of this showcase of new material, for this band (named after a Pokemon) have already evolved.