Radio presenter Jon Hillcock talks new bands on tour
Unknown Mortal Orchestra by Allison V. Smith

"It’s hard to know exactly what is going on, from the stage to the audience… but I know what I see,” explained Jimmy Page to William Burroughs in a Crawdaddy Magazine interview, June 1975. He surmised: “Music which involves riffs will have a trance-like effect.”

Unfortunately for Gross Magic at The Lexington, London, the nearest hint of a transcendental fugue occurred only for those audience members frenetically strumming their Twitter feeds. A collective shrug from the lumpen pack of grimacing label bosses, A&R, bloggers and PRs was inevitable really. 8.15pm on a warm July night is no time for a band this green to win over such a static, distracted assembly. However, I do look forward to catching the glowing psych pop of Sam McGarrigle and his band again, but perhaps twenty gigs down the line with an audience willing to risk their reputation by clapping at the end of each song.

Thank the Lord, then, for Portlander Julien Ehrlich. The teenage drummer of tonight’s headlining band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, had apparently spent the previous evening - his first in the UK - enjoying his newfound alcoholic legality to the fullest of extents. But he wasn’t about to let any hangover, or industry crowd, wither his sticksmanship. As much as these songs belong to mainman (and former Mint Chick) Ruban Neilson, it’s the combined pulse of Ehrlich and bassist Jake Portrait that drives UMO along so thrillingly. The trio’s first major strike arrives with the Sergeant Pepper funk pop of ‘Nerve Damage!’ By the time we reach the brilliant closing brace of ‘Little Blu House’ and pop bomb ‘How Can U Luv Me’, we’re left with little doubt as to whether UMO’s analogue magpie approach (so potent on the debut album) can be translated as effectively in the flesh.

Two days later, laden with the kind of head cold that makes you ache all over, I slowly made my way to The Windmill in Brixton. I’d planned to catch the promising Dead Slow and Rory Bratwell-fronted Warm Brains, but gridlock in the area ensured I’d only see Evans The Death’s headline set. As they took to the stage I found myself crumpled against a wall as far to the left as possible, one eye on the band and the other on the clock. But not for long.

The thunderous delivery of ‘Hello Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ raised my tired eyebrows; the rambunctious ‘Wet Blanket’ had myself, and the feverish crowd of young devotees, smiling like daft idiots; while short, sharp knockabout blasts like ‘What’s In Your Pocket?’ were skilfully laced into a set seemingly built around the idea of a gig being fun. What a novelty. With their refreshing slant on the best indie pop of old, combined with a brilliantly mischievous gang mentality, Evans The Death are on to something special.

Towards the end of their set, effervescent frontwoman Katherine Whitaker delivers the hopelessly devoted central mantra from one of their songs: “I’m not afraid of catching your cold”. From my position, hidden halfway behind a pillar, I do everything humanly possible to keep my groggy aura from interrupting the band, their fans, and an apparent trance-like effect.

Words by Jon Hillcock
Photo by Allison V. Smith


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