5th December | Thekla
Isabel Munoz-Newsome, front-woman for Pumarosa, has a name that’s as puzzling to the tongue as her band’s music is to the brain. Not brain-melting puzzling like trying to keep up with a King Crimson or Return to Forever record, but more like that time your friend cobbled together a mulled wine from memory; familiar, comforting, but not quite what you were expecting.
Thekla, encased in December frost, seems a rather appropriate venue for Pumarosa’s Bristol tour stop. Currently under threat from proposed housing developments (what small, independent venue isn’t?), the waterborne stronghold, even in its weekly club nights, offers a pleasant mix and match (or mismatch) of scenes and genres that all feel part of a collective, unified simply by their iconic, metal-hulled home.
It is in this riveted river location that we find Munoz-Newsome acting as the human equivalent, a sentient vessel from which the audience can digest material from Pumarosa’s enigmatic debut album The Witch. Capitalising on her athletic frame, she at times throws her upper body about with a wonderfully human precision and at other times with an oddly mechanical imprecision. Both of these phenomena are captured at their most potent, aptly, in the performance of the single ‘Priestess’. The eight minute cut opens with a guitar-less Munoz-Newsome spreading her arms, Christ-like, through the soothingly bleak sonic landscape emanating from the PA. In this moment the crowd is most definitely hers. As the song builds, she lifts it from what could, to the inattentive ear, come across as a simple Foals knock-off into an astoundingly powerful and rousing display of feminine energy. Her lyric-less shamanic wails at the song’s climax elicited an atmosphere in the room that is not achieved by other singers who are just flash-in-the-pan, this was something quite special.
That is not to understate the incisive musicality of the other members of the band. Weaving delicate webs between 80’s new wave, 90’s shoegaze, industrial and modern indie, Tomoya, Jamie and Nicholas (keys, guitars and drums respectively) know how to explore the textural outskirts of their instruments. This was apparent in the opener ‘Dragonfly’, a tapestry of these rich veins of influence that is wholly more magnetising than its already captivating record-based counterpart. A guitar and beater brandishing Munoz-Newsome, performing cross disciplinary musicianship that treads a fine line between musical wizardry and the theatrical, also helped to lift the performance into a more arresting realm of live playing than the vast swathes of contemporary indie bands playing the same circuits.
At times, however, tracks that benefit from the The Witch’s very tangible, sumptuous production don’t translate into a live setting quite as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. ‘Hollywood’ was perhaps the biggest disappointment in this regard. A sprawling auditory panorama of synths and harmonised vocals on the album that got a bit lost in itself in Thekla’s sometimes boxy, hard-walled acoustics.
These occasional dips in energy did not dampen the show as a whole though, and as Pumarosa left the stage to continue the tour in Europe with Depeche Mode, one cannot doubt that bigger and better things are waiting for the band in 2018; evident in Munoz Newsome’s very genuine and grateful goodbyes to an equally appreciative crowd.
Check out the video for ‘Dragonfly’ below.