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Hidden Door At The Edinburgh International Festival : The Jesus And Mary Chain, Leith Theatre

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The Light On The Shore strand of The Edinburgh International Festival continues with a night of music curated by Hidden Door who are a driving force behind the resurrection of the Leith Theatre from council storage site to arts venue.

Their show tonight features three Scottish bands. The first up are Spinning Coin who play as a four piece with lead vocal duties swapping between the falsetto of Sean Armstrong and the baritone of Jack Mellin. Their short songs have a lo-fi, jangling-guitar sound and show some influence from The Pastels. The numbers which work best in this set are less slacker and more rock-protest, such as a ‘Powerful’. However, they miss a unifying element to bring together the set which, with the very different feel of the lead vocalists, feels a little schizophrenic.  

Next up, with the theatre near to full, are Honeyblood. The drum and guitar duo have changed the style of their live performance since the early stages of the tour of their second (and most recent) album Babes Never Die. The guitar of Stina Tweeddale has more bass and distortion than previously and so the songs have a much rockier feel. Stina’s vocals also have a deeper, stronger quality to match the guitar sound. They open with ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ and continue with songs about having strength and power to face haters, cheats and critics. The new sound matches this theme of empowerment and is maybe clearest in the difference between their earlier diatribe against ‘Super Rat’ which remains a great singalong of insults and ‘Babes Never Die’ which comes over as a story of overcoming betrayal. Honeyblood drive on with Cat Myers keeping a strong rhythm and on ‘Killer Bangs’ she seems to be appropriately pounding the cymbals like she is trying to drive them into the stage floor. The set finishes with a roaring version of ‘Ready For The Magic’ which features a cheeky bridge where Tweeddale holds a sustained note while Myers necks her bottle of beer. That’s swagger.

Finally, we reach the main act, The Jesus And Mary Chain who set up as a five piece of three guitars, drummer and Jim Reid in front of an array of lights pointing out at the audience. This combined with the downlighting of the stage mean that for most of the gig the band members are hidden or vague shadows with only Reid a clear silhouette for the crowd. One welcome feature of this set-up is that from deep in the audience it is possible to see the stage without obstruction from hundreds of camera screens. It also means the audience focus is on the sound not the band’s movements on stage.

The band open with ‘Amputation’ from the most recent album, Damage And Joy and immediately, their signature rock and roll sound with heavy guitar distortion is clear. This is not a band that should feel like it is a limb cut-off from rock music. As the gig develops, they set out to show this is not the case. The indie classic ‘Head On’ is followed by ‘Blues From A Gun’ which shows the ability to give a blues tilt while ‘Between Planets’ has a danceable, almost pop feel. The basic three chord tunes and the large number of excellent hooks keep appearing and the audience are all in motion. The band use dynamic range to good effect in ‘Some Candy Talking’ where the soft, slow vocals are contrasted with an ear-bursting guitar break. The planned set ends with a rave-like ‘Reverence’ and the floor is bouncing.

The variation continues into the encores which begin with the loping classic ‘Just Like Honey’ and end six tunes later with a raucous chant-along of ‘I Hate Rock And Roll’. This final sentiment is one that this whole gig screams is a monstrous disingenuity but then, the Reid brothers would probably just grin, shrug and walk off to the applause.

Further photographs from the gig can be viewed here.

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Hidden Door Festival, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh - Sylvan Esso

  • Published in Live


Arriving late due to my indecision on what to wear that night (what?! My weather app says it’s supposed to be 17 degrees but it’s colder than winter with that damn haar out there! Tshirt? Under three layers? Sweatshirt?) we walked in on the E M I L I E quartet. Not too many people had congregated on the floor as the night was still young and maybe everyone else was stuck at home in their own clothing indecision. We took the opportunity to roam around Leith Theatre to look at the installations. By far my favourite one was lurking in the basement. Video work by Clara Hastrup showed humour and skill behind all those images. Red hot bacon frying over lime green forest fires: Clever. The music filtered down through the building; it blended in well with the surroundings, enhancing the experience of looking at the artwork.

When we popped back up to ground level, Emilie Atkinson and her three were winding up their set.  It was a good introduction to the night of electronic music.

As I looked about me, I noticed the crowd this second night was noticeably younger than the crowd from the previous evening. Maybe the older kids didn’t feel like putting on their dancing shoes or perhaps these kids were more savvy with what was going down in the world of electro pop, indie pop and all the other electro words and pop descriptions needed to define what we were hearing.

After an hour’s wait (it must take a long time to unplug and reassemble the stage according to the musicians’ needs) Happy Meals showed themselves, backlit and two shadows, ready to perform. Apparently, the mid-calf black pants suit is the costume of choice for musicians this season as Suzanne Rodden was sporting a flared trouser leg version of this season’s wardrobe staple. She excited the crowd by joining them, hopping over the ineffective fence. We lost sight of her several times, sometimes for several minutes. She was also doing this barefoot which was either brave or crazy. Crazy brave? There was hair flipping, hair twirling and a few back bends. The music would rush forward to find the faster beat it needed for the next number. For the final crescendo, Lewis Cook and Suzanne disappeared in a puff of smoke after a scream. Right. That’s Happy Meals then.

At this point I needed to pop outside. As I exited the building, I noticed a bank of people all staring roofwards. What do you do when you see loads of people looking up? You look up too to see what they’re all staring at. Apparently, they were all gazing up towards Kathryn Spence and Tess Letham as they danced dangerously close to the edge of the roof. It was beautiful when you were within earshot of the music, however, when you were out of it - for example queueing up for the portaloo – it looked a bit bizarre. One needed the other.

It was finally time for the headliners to show themselves. The floor was packed, as was the upper lever where we were sitting directly across from the stage.  When the door to the back of the stage opened, the crowd went wild…only to realise it was a stage worker. The crowd cheered again when another shadow appeared. Er. Still neither Amelia Meath nor Nick Sanborn. Take three, crowd went wild and yes, this was what we were waiting for. This was my most favourite act of the night. I loved the banter with the audience (we learned a new word for ocean breeze – Haar!) to the quirky dance moves (both) and yes, a black mid-calf jumpsuit. Hearing them at home compared to seeing them on stage are two very different experiences; things are amped up several notches and far less mellow in their on-stage performance. They very clearly have a big following here in Edinburgh and it is easy to see why. I was already a fan of their music but this experience has made me a fan of them as performers. Lots of fun, lots of energy and rockin' dance moves. If only she would make a How To Dance Awesome Like Me dance video. I would sign up for that.

Hidden Door continues until June 03 - further details here.

Further images from this show can be found here.

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