2nd June | Exchange
The room at Exchange where Methyl Ethel is to play is filling up with fans. He hasn’t visited Bristol for a few years, so it’s been a long time coming, but there aren’t too many of us that it’s uncomfortable. Beforehand, however, local support act, Katy J Pearson comes on stage.
She has a unique voice. It’s a pleasure to listen to, alternating from punchy and charismatic to almost cutesy. The music’s upbeat and appealing, and the band’s character on stage is instantly likeable. They’re all dressed in varying degrees of Americana; there is a lot of plaid, and moustaches abound. Apparently, Katy got “absolutely wrecko” last night, but is trooping on despite the hangover (and some healthy nerves) to play a very enjoyable set. The highlight is surely ‘Return’, a stripped-down track in lo-fi style that showcases Katy’s measured vibrato. A stellar warm-up.
Methyl Ethel (i.e. Australia’s Jake Webb) plays art rock, permeated with unceasingly-catchy hooks and an astonishingly good falsetto. He also seems to be somewhat of an eccentric. Happy to help his band set up on stage, he is at first a muted presence. The indie aesthetic is perfectly displayed here: everyone on stage seems to be wearing combat boots. Then, raw, harsh noise begins to emanate from their instruments. It’s unclear whether what we’re hearing is a sound check, or an introduction.
Thankfully, the sonic pain soon forms into the first track of the evening, an unreleased track named ‘Majestic AF’, and from the get-go Jake comes alive. He stretches up to touch the ceiling, then launches into a flamboyant and dance-like performance that carries on the whole set. Even when you think he’s run out of moves, Jake responds with some other gyration. It’s an experience, to be sure.
His much-lauded voice is every bit the one you hear on the records, and more: it’s shocking how high he can reach and still be exactly on note. On ‘Real Tight’, his soprano wail positively recalls birdsong, scraping the upper echelons of his capacity (but perhaps he can go higher?). Gripping his guitar, Jake can also play with the best of them, strumming a hard-hitting line on ‘Hip Horror’ from his latest album Triage. The rest of the band is likewise talented, dependably playing beats to die for on ‘Ruiner’.
The crowd was subdued when Methyl Ethel took the stage, but now they too are fully into the performance and in good mood, although they can’t quite echo Jake’s wild energy, laughing into the mic as he sings lead single ‘Scream Whole’. The bombastic track then leads directly into Methyl Ethel’s other biggest track ‘Ubu’, to our delight. The live arrangement has the pre-chorus, chorus and verses sung simultaneously by the track’s close: it’s a treat to experience.
Biggest hits now out of the way, the set closes with ‘Drink Wine’ through a slowly-rising cacophony that teeters once again on the boundaries of enjoyment. Impressively, Jake is still singing on his tiptoes, clutching at the mic stand to the very end. The eccentricity of Methyl Ethel is clear, but it only adds to the gig’s enjoyability. Hopefully it won’t be another couple of years of waiting before they next return.
See Methyl Ethel play ‘Real Tight’ live here: