17th May | Fleece
Photos: Craig Simmonds
If there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about Bristol’s music scene, it’s that the presence of Big Jeff often acts as the harbinger of the best show in town. For tonight, I can’t say I was surprised to be greeted with his image as I strolled into the gloriously dingy surroundings of The Fleece, ready for a night of Kiwi charm courtesy of indie darlings, The Beths.
In a fitting display of national camaraderie, I was delighted to discover that tour support appeared in the form of fellow New Zealanders Hans Pucket, whose air of chugging positivity lurched forth within seconds. Instant comparisons to the endearing weirdness of David Byrne are worn proudly on Oliver Devlin’s sleeve, his vocal delivery conjuring apparitions of jittering indie-punk met with compliments from a bright and biting guitar tone. Perhaps taking note from their stage-mates or perhaps evolving entirely separately, a significant staple of the band’s compositional make-up is the impressive combination of multi-layered vocal harmonies, executed flawlessly and often materialising with an ethereal quality.
At their sharpest, the band can almost channel the Sex Pistols, though in an alternate reality where we don’t have as much to be angry about, but we do want to spit a little, however they’re not all bite. More introspective cuts offer shades of Mid-West emo and slower jams hide glimpses of The Police allowing for the opportunity to admire the interplay of pulsating bass and mesmerisingly tight percussive flair. With a sprinkling of surfy tremolo melodies and the occasional disco-tinged beat, there’s a world of influence here to dig your teeth into.
It’s really a credit to The Beths and their stellar debut record that this fairly sizeable venue on the other side of the planet is about as full as I’ve ever seen it. Not only that, the crowd’s genetic make-up appears to stretch far and wide, from middle-aged office workers to wide-eyed students, though the band don’t seem to notice this popularity as I catch them trying to casually stroll through the venue to clamber straight up to the stage.
Straight off the bat, with their now iconic single, ‘Future Me Hates Me’, the room gurgles into a delicate warm fuzz accented by a lush sorbet of soft vocals. It seems their strength lies in an ear for melodies that, whilst never becoming challenging for challenging’s sake, are simply impossible to resist joining in with, a prospect that tonight’s crowd need no pushing towards. As the set rolls on, I can’t help but draw comparison with the early work of The Beatles, the addictive happiness of ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ without the air of formulaic drudgery.
That’s not to say that the band are particularly experimental; they’re not, but they don’t need to be, not when their music enjoys such a wide reach. Looking around the room and witnessing a range of faces, from an older couple sharing a kiss to a group of first years throwing their heads back in laughter, all soundtracked by a balls-out flare of guitar, can’t help but make you smile.
Stitched into the patchwork of The Beths’ sound, you’ll find an impressive balance of jagged, alt-rock instrumentation in marriage with soft and introspective melody. It becomes apparent that they possess a musical ability to channel both aggression and intensity without ever peaking dynamically, showcasing an impressive level of compositional and performative skill that leaves headroom lingering above, should the right moment strike.
I’m left with this feeling as the night draws in. I cast my vision across the room and am met with a vista of smiling faces. This band’s power becomes clear to me. They have found a way to deliver their own happiness and unity to a wider field and in a time such as now that deserves some appreciation.
See the video for ‘Future Me Hates Me’ here: