Toothless – The Hope & Ruin – 5th March 2017

I replaced our scheduled writer for the Toothless show somewhat at the last minute, so I felt a little unprepared going in. I had listened to the début album, The Pace Of The Passing during the day. Released in January, this new solo project from Bombay Bicycle Club's bass-player Ed Nash, was an intriguing listen. There seemed to be two main contrasting but not irreconcilable approaches: folky melancholia and melodic pop with danceable grooves. I found myself wondering, as well, how the various collaborations on the album would be recreated live – vocal contributions from the likes of Marika Hackman, The Staves, Tom Fleming and Liz Lawrence pepper the album. When I arrived early to the show Liz Lawrence was up on the stage doing a solo show, and answering my question. For every night of the tour Lawrence has been opening up with a solo set before joining Ed Nash on stage for the Toothless set to close. Lawrence played a set of soulful electronic tracks, switching between her guitar and some sort of micro synth. She's a very talented woman and I found the tail-end of her set a fantastic opening to the night. The abrupt ending of her final song seemed to rob her of the uproarious applause I felt she was due, but she seemed ego-free and unperturbed as she made way for the local support.

I first saw Martha Gunn at Together The People festival last year. Their melodic pop, which verges on classic rock, was a great choice to play with Toothless tonight, so I was not surprised to hear this is actually their second show together. Toothless seem to have a more modern sound, or certainly more modern influences, but there's common ground in the feel of what they're doing and their use of multiple voices for harmony and counter-point melody are a key feature of the sound. Martha Gunn are a very polished act, and they've got some great tunes to boot. It's hard not to think of Rumoursera Fleetwood Mac when you see them, but there's more to the band than that and they often have a slightly harder edge to them. I imagine this lot can't be far off their debut album now, I would say that they need to figure out a smoother way of introducing the track where their lead singer takes to the piano. It causes a good minute of awkward fiddling with cables before and after the song, which disrupts the flow of what was otherwise a perfect support set.

Toothless step up next, opening with the girls in the band rhythmically breathing to introduce the sparse and folky 'Charon'. It's sweet, epic pop – a moody beginning to an excellent live set, which works its way through much of the album. Ed Nash has assembled an excellent band for these shows, old school friends on the bass and keyboards, the aforementioned Liz Lawrence on guitar and vocals and an extremely talented drummer, playing acoustic kit and weaving in electronic pads when required. Such a tight and talented group allow the man to relax in his performance, it's refreshing to see the frontman of a solo project so at ease, stepping back from the mic from time to time, letting his bandmates carry the melody. It's something that happens fairly regularly as Toothless songs are often built around two or three counter-point melodies that layer on top of and around each other. This is the band's first UK tour, ending what seems to have been a successful jaunt round the country here in Brighton. Ed Nash has written an extremely hook-laden set of songs, so much so that there are competing ear worms in my head after the show, my mind's not sure whether to repeat choruses from 'Sisyphus', 'Palm's Backside' or 'Alright Alright Alright' the next day so it does all three in sequence. The upbeat pop goes down a treat, waking up a slightly dozy Monday night crowd. Gentler moments, like 'The Midas Touch' are cleverly sequenced into the set, with the breathing motif repeated, to keep things moving and exciting throughout.

The only pause comes when Nash's bass player's tuner dies, prompting a bit of banter while cables are swapped and the bass is put back into key. Tonight, it seems, Nash and Lawrence have had to learn important lessons about life on the road. Lawrence tells us not to wear a roll neck and Nash reveals that his choice of meal before the show – a spicy noodle soup – has sat uncomfortably on him all night! The set ends with 'Party For Two', which is the song Lawrence sang on the album. It feels a little different to the rest of the set, guitar stabs and a skipping half-time groove. I find myself thinking Toothless are a bit like a shinier, poppier Pixies and that is no bad thing.
Adam Kidd

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