Desert Hearts at The Stiff Kitten
Desert Hearts, Wonder Villains, Elspeth
Stiff Kitten, Belfast
Friday, 4th November, 2011
It’s always nice to find a new delight, and Elspeth are a gem worth discovering. There is a good vibe at the Stiff Kitten as the band launch the show. The Newry five-piece open confidently, putting three guitars, bass and drums to good use in some engaging, textured rock. The opening track gets a good response from the crowd, and the rest of the set draws us more into the controlled power building through the songs.
Somewhere around the fourth track it’s clear that this is a bit special, and it’s easy to see why ‘Old Age’ got a demo of the day notice with The Guardian. Elspeth offer confident vocals, ear-pleasing lead riffs and songs which make a good case for promised debut album COAX. The band cover a good range of material, ‘Song for Goodbyes’ sitting in Fleet Foxes territory, ‘24 Hour Paramedics’ having a flavour of the Manics, and set-closer ‘The Taster’ is a bluesy riff of a song.
Wonder Villains are next up, hot from winning the Oh Yeah Contenders laurel at the recent Northern Ireland Music Awards. The Derry four-piece launch straight in to ‘33’, big drums and jolly keys setting the tone for the set. The band get a big reaction from the mid-evening middling full crowd and a party mood takes us through a bouncing set of lively, engaging pop songs. Wonder Villains are popular culture put to music, referencing a TV series, Winter Olympics and Gianfranco Zola amongst other things. The music is good, the delivery lively, and smiles and enthusiasm spill from the stage.
There is a long delay before Desert Hearts take the stage. Charley is in good form and offers an apology, referring to a personal groundhog day. They launch into the sombre bounce of a blistering ‘Sea Punk’, which gets the energy straight back into the evening. The guitar riffs blister away and the crowd are well on board.
The band are tight, the music good, and each song gets appreciated, including more recent material bound for the now nearly mythical third album. The sinister ‘Arrow of Time’ rumbles darkly, and ‘Wolf Down’ has a kind of rocked up country feel, with a characteristic buzzing guitar solo. The set moves on with the dark humour of ‘No More Art’
The long delay at the start has a legacy- the show closes seven songs in, with the aptly chosen ‘Last Song’. While there is something to say for leaving the punters wanting more, this is stretching it, and it is a missed opportunity for the band playing a showcase gig. Desert Hearts are a great band who produce quality material, and disappointing as it was for things to end so abruptly, what we got was great. A bit more time to hear ‘Ocean’, ‘The Bone Song‘ or any other of a number of Desert Hearts big hitters would have made the night.
Sometimes we can give leeway to wayward genius and Desert Hearts, who span at least five years between albums, are never going to exactly tow the normal line. Write a song about your groundhog day, get the promised third album out and we’ll forgive you. Ah, we forgive you anyway. When’s the next gig?