Exactly like us, except slightly younger
Exactly like us, except slightly younger
Let’s be honest: there was a bit of a brouhaha on the wide world of the web when it was announced that quintessential Groundhogs drummer Ken Pustelnik had put together a band that was going to play the back catalogue live. Sensible people decided to let the music do the talking and check out the validity of the project on stage. So what went down? Well, for a start there were a couple of support bands to warm us up…
Ulysses played a stomping set recently supporting Howlin’ Rain. They topped that performance with a belter of an opening set. Maybe their recent Dodgy support oop north primed them, or maybe it was in defiance of the godawful weather, but there was intensity and aggression in their playing that really lifted the material. Despite the belligerence in the performance, the banter was the usual laid back whimsical stuff: split between surreal song pronouncements and inter-band ribbing. Current single How Long is developing in to a tremendous live tune – an unholy mix of David Essex and Sabbaff that stakes a permanent claim on your brain. It’s a crying shame their latest LP remains unreleased; clearly indicating the industry is full of cloth-eared buffoons.
B247 knew nothing of second band Spider Kitten, and rather lazily presumed they would be some kind of psychedelic beat combo. In fact they are an experimental doom behemoth that bludgeoned the Exchange with a collection of massive pounding riffs. The material was dense and monolithic – you’re not gonna be singing these babies in the shower or whistling the melodies as you put out the bins, but there was intensity about the playing that sucked you in to a sonic vortex and spat you out pummelled.
Groundhogs opened their set with their mission statement – to keep alive classic material and breathe new life into the songs. They’re not looking in to cash in and were respectful of Tony McPhee (currently unable to perform due to ill health). So did they deliver? Hell yes. The four piece line-up took the material and conjured up a psychedelic blues maelstrom to the delight of the crowd. Sticking to the LPs recorded between ’69–’72, the set was pretty relentless – full of energy and crackling with vigour. The twin guitar set up really does bring the new life promised, both Chris D'Avoine and Sol Latif peeling off some quite stunning solos, and riffs with real heft – extending and bending the material in to lengthy jams that avoided indulgence through the intensity of the playing.
The foundations laid by Ken Pustelnik and Latch Manghat were essential to the groove excursions, the former’s drumming relentless, somehow managing to swing with the beat whilst delivering thunderous fills and giving a relentless drive to the tunes. Latch in turn delivers remarkably fluid bass underpinning the riffs, and full credit to him for keeping up with Pustelnik, an inventive drummer who ignores the obvious in favour of the unexpected – the pair locked in tight for the duration. Songs? Choice picks from the four albums - and yes, of course they played Cherry Red.
The band are scheduled to play the splendid home-grown Temples Festival in June 2016. Let’s hope there are warm up shows before then, and if they play half as well there as they did tonight they’re gonna blow the roof off the place.
Review by Jonathon Kardasz, B24/7
Life, they say, is full of rich tapestry and irony. When you try to keep something secret, it invariably gets out. Yet when you want the world to know your business, you can't find a decent megafone anywhere.
Enter the curiously monikered Exotic Names Band, from parts unknown. When they were announced as performing for Oxjam at The Crofter's Rights in Stokes Croft, nobody (rightly) raised an eyebrow. Yet, the world is full of clues pertaining to treasures should one only look for them. Strange tweets alluding to a mysterious band playing 'similar' sounding material to Groundhogs, occasional Facebook posts offering seemingly innocent updates of 'activity' and 'goings ons'. All a rouse, constructed and executed to perfection. At least, that is what Ken and the boys will tell you.
So well guarded was the secret, that excluding staff, there were no more than a dozen people present - but that didn't deter the band. "Good Afternoon! We're called Ken's Hot Lava Java... for the last 10 minutes." announced lead singer and guitarist Chris D'avoine, to an audience that knew an in-joke when they heard one. Infact, it was exactly what they had planned all along. The room was lined with equipment; audio recorders, cameras and electronic devices of all kinds, whirring away and capturing the entire (albeit shortened) performance, ready to be unleashed on the public at a later date.
And so, after 70 something minutes of wonderfully performed classics the band packed away their kit, and their cameras. And finally, they had something on film for the world to see.
"It seems there's been a good deal of controversy on the internet.", calmly states lead singer and guitarist Chris D'avoine. "We're not trying to replace Tony McPhee." he continues, "Because you can't."
This statement, which came after a nervous first fifteen minutes of a raucous, eventually epic ninety-five minute gig at St. James Wine Vaults set the tone for the rest of the show, and for the night as a whole. It was incredibly respectful, dignified and widely appreciated by the packed cellar, who had bought up every single ticket available prior to the doors opening.
Before the band took to the stage, there were clear and visible nerves from all parties present. Support bands Charivari and Dynamite Pussy Club provided a perfect backdrop for what was yet to come, the latter almost psychically sensing the anticipation and electricity in the room, extending their set seemingly to allow Groundhogs an extra few minutes to steady their nerves, before arriving official.
As mentioned, the first fifteen minutes were nervous and tentative, the band delicately weaving through the openers whilst trying to catch breath - however, once lead singer Chris D'avoine had made his seemingly personal statement, it appeared to unshackle the band as a whole. Finally, they had arrived, eager to prove to all present that they were no elaborate tribute band, but legitimate heirs to the throne - and on this night, nobody was going to prevent them from claiming their rightful place.
The next thirty minutes, featuring a slew of familiar tracks such as Soldier and Rich Man, Poor Man were presented to the audience as a reward for their patience. As each track passed, the confidence began to exude. What happened next was nothing short of stunning.
The owners at St. James Wine Vaults and event promotors RMT couldn't have anticipated the final, crushing forty-five minutes. Had they have known, they may well have politely asked the band to curb their enthusiasm. Each track during this phase of the performance took on a new life of its own; remaining at their cores loyal and true to the original feel, yet mutating beautifully and mystically at every chance.
Track lengths were ignored, regiment and order tossed aside as the crowd were treated to an incredible display of skill, improvisation and dexterity. By the end of the gig (now into its 90th minute), the audience had been whipped into unashamed frenzy, begging for just one more despite the distance they had already travelled with the band on this cold and foggy night - and one more they got in the shape of an extended, gnarled version of Cherry Red that allowed original drummer Ken Pustelnik a chance to show everyone that not only was he still on top of his game, but at the spritely age of 69, he might now be at his peak.
The music stops. And like that, they were gone. Into the crowd of new (and old) followers of Groundhogs, mostly dumfounded and blissfully shell-shocked by what they had seen. The statement that lead singer Chris D'avoine had made early on in the show seemed all the more pertinent now. "We don't want to replace Tony McPhee. Because you can't." - and with this simple, zen-like sentence, he had set a precedent. This was no replacement, no cover band or mismatched meeting of minds.
Everybody knows a reincarnation when they see one.
Picture the scene. It's mid-gloaming, the rain has abated for an hour or so and the people in attendance are just beginning to dry out after the deluge that began the previous day. Crackle and hum fills the air. Light emits from the impromptu stage; a lorry trailer resplendent with generator and equipment of various description.
A blast of noise fills the field like a shockwave. Like the first screams of a newborn, Groundhogs enter with a sound that indicates that the volume can only only go up, and that the destruction has only just begun - again.
Played to a handful of close friends and fellow musicians at an annual party hosted by Gonga brothers Thom and George Elgie deep in the heart of Gloucestershire, the band unleashed their inaugural gig with precision and gusto. After an hour, they were spent - as were the audience. They vanished from the stage as quickly as they arrived, but with the promise that the best was yet to come.