Live review: Joanna Gruesome & Speedy Ortiz
Thursday 13 February 2014: Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds plays host to a Cardiff C86-grunge act and an Massachusetts indie-rock foursome
laying your first UK gig, in your pomp and off the back of a recently released EP is sure to be a mix of puke-inducing nerves and kittens-bouncing-into-a-wool-factory excitement. Try telling that to Massachusetts foursome Speedy Ortiz, for whom only the latter was evident. Songwriting was fortunate to catch up with the band, and gobble up a shard of their time, just prior to hitting the stage for their 13 February performance at Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds. With the question of the musical output of this prodigious band a hot topic, bassist Darl Ferm found time to confide that he had been to the UK once before, “to visit Legoland aged 10”.
Also revealed was that the highlight of last year’s tour with Thurston Moore’s Chelsea Light Moving was when the alt-rock legend joined Speedy Ortiz on stage, “to play slap bass in one of our noise jams”. For those eager to hear the follow-up to last year’s superb debut album Major Arcana you may have to wait a little longer – drummer Mike Falcone advised that the release of LP2 is “a mystery even to us”. You’ll be pleased to hear though that the band still has much new material coming. Singer and guitarist Sadie Dupuis disclosed that she has a “Josie & The Pussycats song cover song coming out on Non Violent Femmes”, “a compilation of artists covering fictional bands”, as well two singles for Record Store Day.
For the keen connoisseur of this indie-rock troupe, you might also be advised to dig a little deeper than the records that have been released under the Speedy Ortiz name. Mike has a record coming out under the pseudonym Buzzy Fuzzy and guitarist Matt Robidoux has also been recording under the name Ponybones, with record number two – operating under the working title Ponybones 2 – set to see the light of day soon.
Fans hoping to replicate the Speedy Ortiz sound might take note that Jason Lowenstein has been a key influence on the bands songwriting with Lou Barlow a further source of inspiration. Indeed Darl confessed that he had used Barlow’s bass amp on the bands recently released EP Real Hair and that he has a “pedal that tries to replicate Lou Barlow’s sound.” Something that admirers of Sebadoh and Dinsoaur Jr will agree is no bad thing! There was a gig for the band to play though, one supported by the excellent C86-grunge act Joanna Gruesome.
Having released one of the true gems of last year, in Weird Sister, the band took to the stage with the crowd already breathless. Taking this as their inspiration, they proceeded to launch into a performance so frenetic that it made you wonder whether they’d broken into the local infirmary and made off with the entire supply of iron lungs. Tracks such as, Songwriting’s rock song of the year Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers, Madison and Secret Surprise seared with even greater verve than on record, something enhanced by the feverish pogoing of bassist George Nicholls and singer Alanna Mcardle. In Mcardle the band possess a frontwoman of effortless charisma – one whose exponential cool could easily assume a timeless quality.
The band’s real skill though was to not define its strength to any one member, with each component seamlessly becoming the best part of a song at any given moment. It also wasn’t just the songs of Weird Sister that shone. The new material held the same sonic melody as its older siblings and was enough to suggest that the band have lost none of their edge.
Finishing their set with Stone-Roses-meets-Huggy-Bear thump of Graveyard, before climaxing with the candyfloss-jammed-down-the-neck, pop bounce of Sugarcrush, the band left many a fluttering eyelid and hand jabbing towards an imaginary rewind button.
Joanna Gruesome’s performance ramped up the expectation levels to the ceiling and through the roof, like sweat-soaked shoots. It was an expectation that Speedy Ortiz were more than capable of matching though and, with songs as good as Indoor Soccer and set opener American Horror, the crowd should have expected nothing less from Northampton’s finest.
Drawing liberally from their Sports and Real Hair EPs, as well as last year’s Major Arcana LP, songs such as Gary, Tiger Tank and Everything’s Bigger had the glorious familiarity of bumping into an old friend, the time of whose absence had counted the length of a bar queue. Indeed the latter track’s age has barely departed days and entered into weeks, yet it felt that the entire crowd already knew each and every melody.
Musically, a demonic mixture of laconic vocals, acrid guitar textures and riffs catchy enough to reel in a sea bass the size of a blimp, the band also possessed a wonderfully endearing stage presence; even offering an apology for what must have been the quickest string-change ever seen, by guitarist Matt. The strength of the band’s songwriting was also clear, with it obvious to all that, despite their appreciation for a hook, Speedy Ortiz are a band who are not gamed simply for the obvious chord change.
Any disappointment was restricted solely to the fact that there was not enough time for the band to rip their way through their entire back catalogue, with the excellent Basketball left to dunk hoops on its own and the superb Curling not given an (what would have been fitting) airing, with the winter Olympics at its height. Still, it was splitting hairs over what had been a superb performance from two of the finest new acts to give ammo to the indie-rock canon. And just to think it was Speedy Ortiz’s maiden UK gig.
Words: Damien Girling
Speedy Ortiz’s Real Hair EP is out now and if you have any interest in guitars that splutter with melody then you should kick yourself if you don’t already own Joanna Gruesome’s excellent debut LP Weird Sister.