CASSIA / LARKINS / HEIR - Phoenix, Exeter 30.10.18
Due to ongoing refurbishments at the Phoenix, tonight’s gig is in the smaller upstairs Voodoo Lounge and sold out pretty quickly after tickets went on sale. Pretty typically for this venue, things are running behind schedule and a steady stream of teenagers form a long queue from the door, which snakes around the corridor, through a fire door and down the stairs. The excitement is palpable, and from talking to a few of the (mainly) girls in the queue, I ascertain that CASSIA are ‘sick’ and that for many this is the first time they will have seen this, or in fact, any, band play live. By the time the doors eventually open, the noise level from the excited chatter almost makes me reach for my earplugs! It takes me back to my youth though, and that makes me smile.
First support band tonight are Leeds natives HEIR, who get right down to the job in hand of warming up the capacity crowd. Starting with ‘The Product Of An Adventure’, Tom Hammond (vocals), Sam Luca (keyboards), Harry Vernon (bass), Ste Fisher (guitar) and Samuel Newham (drums) soon get the audience moving with their energetic performance. The funky ‘Don’t Tell Me Why’ sees the entire front half of the crowd shaking their thing, as Hammond proclaims, “We’ve come a long way, so we’re gonna party!”. They also thank CASSIA, who they used to play 15-capacity venues with, for having them. It turns out Luca is from Exeter, which goes down well with the many Exonians in the audience.
‘Need You The Most’ highlights the fresh vocal harmonies, not to mention an engaging guitar solo from Fisher. ‘I’ll Pick You Up’ follows and lots of the audience are happily singing along. Vernon and Newham form a tight rhythm section on the tiny stage area, as their solid beats ensure the audience keep dancing. At one point, Hammond joins the bubbly Luca on keyboards and the whole band are just rocking out for a long instrumental section which is fantastic; you can really hear each instrument and appreciate it. Last song ‘Always Forever’ was released on Spotify last week and is impressive, not just for Hammond’s spectacular hip swinging; the song is a catchy, melodious, well-written track that sticks in the mind, and HEIR have some of the best vocal harmonies I’ve heard for a while. This audience certainly warmed to the Northern guys and their danceable, sing-a-long tunes. HEIR looked like they were having a lot of fun up there tonight and certainly gave it their all! The band are expecting to have a single out in January, followed by an EP in April.
Find out more about HEIR here:-
Second on the bill tonight are Indie rock/pop band LARKINS, originally formed by school friends from Glossop, and described as ‘Manchester’s next arena act’ by the Manchester Evening News (https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/larkins-manchester-shows-food-festival-11965325). Having read this earlier, I’m expecting great things from the four-piece consisting of Josh Noble (vocals/guitar), Dom Want (guitar), Henry Beach (bass) and Joe Stott (drums). Their seven-song set of rousing songs kicks off with ‘Pink and Blue’ and ‘Hit and Run’ and also includes the brilliant rumbling bass and awesome jingling lead guitar on ‘Riverbed’, which also highlights the band’s utterly fabulous vocal blending.
Noble then introduces ‘Wasted Years’, a song about telling your careers adviser you want to be a rock star rather than getting a proper job! It’s followed by ‘Tales Of Cassandra’, a funky, stirring song with an easy swaying beat that’s full of wonderfully layered vocal harmonies. Noble encourages the audience to sing parts of the song back to him, for which they need hardly any coaxing at all. Seeking reassurance, Noble asks “Are we doing okay, Exeter?”, to which he’s met with cheers and applause. Noble also tells us about ‘The Cassia Game’, which they like to play, and in homage to the headliners’ song, Noble sings ‘100 Times Over’, to which the crowd enthusiastically reply “Get up, sit down!”, hoping that CASSIA can hear as they are only in the next room.
All too soon, LARKINS come to the last song of their set; ‘Something Beautiful’, a memorable song just made for dancing to. The packed hall responds in exactly the right way and everywhere I look there are people smiling, having a boogie and a damn good time.
Catch LARKINS live here :-
08.11.18 - The Polar Bear, Kingston upon Hull
09.11.18 - The Shed, Leicester
10.11.18 - Café Totem, Sheffield
14.11.18 - The Met, Bury
15.11.18 - Cluny 2, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
23.11.18 - The Sugarmill, Stoke-on-Trent
24.11.18 - Sound Food and Drink, Liverpool
25.11.18 - Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
29.11.18 - The Old Courts, Wigan
30.11.18 - The Mash House, Edinburgh
02.12.18 - Café Drummonds, Aberdeen
Find out more about LARKINS here:-
For headline act CASSIA, tonight’s gig comes almost at the end of a six week run of dates covering Europe and the UK. This is the first time the Macclesfield lads Rob Ellis (vocals/guitar), Lou Cotterill (bass/vocals) and Jake Leff (drums/vocals) have played in Exeter, but as they take to the stage, now adorned with their own dazzling lighting display, there is clearly a lot of warmth for them here. Seeing their music genre described as calypso afro-rock (on the band’s Facebook page) got me intrigued enough to listen to a couple of tracks, resulting in me being here to review their performance tonight.
As the opening beats of ‘Moana’ start, the crowd erupt into a grinning, bouncing throng. The band take the opportunity to play ‘Small Spaces’, a new song that showcases the impressive and seemingly effortless drumming of Jake Leff and the funky, laid-back bass lines of Lou Cotterill. Theirs is an interactive rhythm section partnership with plenty of eye contact and smiling. As the party atmosphere intensifies with each subsequent song, the band’s lighting adding to the mood as the light boxes sway in time to the music, flashing and changing through a sequence of colours; it’s like being at some kind of beach party. The only downside to this is that it’s actually quite difficult to see what’s happening on stage when there are lots of incredibly bright bulbs a few inches from my face; in the end, I move away from the front row as my eyes are beginning to hurt.
‘Weekender’ gets the audience swaying to the melodic beat, putting their ‘hands up’ at the appropriate moments and singing along. This is followed by another new song, ‘Dream A’, which the appreciative crowd lap up. Ellis pauses between songs to talk to the crowd, “This venue sold out pretty quickly, we thought we might’ve got the venue capacity wrong but this is nice and intimate”. Everyone here completely concurs as they cheer and whistle in agreement. Onto ‘Movers and Shapers’, which Ellis tells us is “about being with your best mate”; it’s obviously a fan favourite as it gets a brilliant reaction, as does ‘Out of Mind’, during which vocalist Ellis hits the high notes with apparent ease. His guitar playing is effortless too; instrumentally and vocally tonight, I cannot fault CASSIA at all.
Prior to playing the last couple of songs, Ellis thanks LARKINS, “we supported them when we were babies!”, and HEIR, who have both been watching CASSIA play. Penultimate song ‘100 Times Over’ has the whole place singing along in unison, as does the last planned song of the set, ‘Loosen Up’. Before the band can even leave the stage, it’s clear the crowd want more. What else could the encore be but ultimate party anthem ‘Paradise Beach’? Pretty much everyone in the room starts bouncing, right to the very back of the hall. It really does feel like one massive celebration. CASSIA are inoffensive, they’re the kind of band your mother would like, y’know? And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Find out more about CASSIA here:-
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