The extortionate price of a dodgy European pils beer aside, downstairs at Soup Kitchen is a good place to see bands. There’s a wide stage, and the room is uncluttered, meaning there’s plenty of space to get a good view. I imagine it’s a good place to play too, stowed in the basement and free from the exposure of anything above the most necessary level of light as it is – a single line of audience arced round the stage nevertheless feels like an intimate and devoted audience.
That’s how Carousels, the only support act, started off. More filtered in throughout the set, but this single horseshoe remained attentive throughout the set. Their music was uncomplicated, summery and well-delivered. From the energetic sixteenth-note drums which kicked off the first song, the whole set showed an attention to detail, particularly in the dynamics, and the interaction between the vocals and the rest of the instruments – it was interesting how the songs didn’t defer to the voices, but the girl-boy duo instead were just one part in the fabric of the song. That said, the vocals could have been louder – the voices were well matched (Belle and Sebastian came to mind) but the harmonies sometimes got a bit lost.
After three or four songs it became clear they didn’t have the biggest arsenal of ideas, but they did enough different with each one to avoid it sounding repetitive – as that brand of indie rock-pop is wont to do. The female singer made use of a tambourine – a move I’ve never known to go astray – and there was some impassioned amping of the guitars which screeched their way into Yeah Yeah Yeahs territory. It was very enjoyable, but after five or six songs the band suddenly and quietly left the stage, without ever quite confirming how interesting they were one way or another.
At this point, the attendance was starting to swell. A lot of couples – the lads often with self-satisfied smiles on their faces, clearly chuffed to have got two of the presumably limited number of tickets (Soup Kitchen isn’t massive) for the head end of a tour of a band they believe are about to skyrocket. You can’t blame them for thinking that. Peace, despite their distinctly search-engine-unfriendly name, have permeated the Radio 6 playlist (obviously, the coolest playlist to be on) and have some pretty cool videos racking up the views on Youtube. On the face of it, they’re not a band particularly well-placed to follow the stardom road. They’re from Birmingham (home of Ocean Colour Scene and UB40) and even in their videos – presumably where you’d find them at their most manicured – they look like they might not have found their way home from the pub last night. On the other hand, it’s heartening to see the concept of picking up a guitar and making some noise as something a bit dirty, a bit oily, like that other ‘cool’ garage activity, fixing up an old car.
But it’s the music that matters, and it is the music by which they shall be judged by the sell-out audience. Their recorded output demonstrates a reasonably eclectic set of influences, from 50s surf to 90s grunge via the psychedelic road from which their name shares a heritage. But taking all this and stripping away the production to leave four guys and their instruments in a dark room is exactly the right way to test the songwriting. The care they’ve taken in the song construction is often clear by its apparent ease – take the call and response chorus in their second song, ‘Follow Baby’, for example. It’s not a complicated format but it sounds so effortless, it’s a clever way to introduce the a new texture in the overlaps, and the airy backing vocals act as a great palate cleanser for the Nirvana-esque guitar bridge that follows.
And there is variety too. The fourth song – the name of which eludes me – features some charismatic vocals, but the guitars soar above the whole thing, propped up by some syncopated drums – almost house rhythms – whereas the next song, the adolescently named California Daze, raises a small cheer from the crowd with its laconic sun-sweltered opening. The attendees can hardly believe it when they announce their sixth song is their last (and betray just a tang of eccentricity when lead singer Harrison Koissier requests a ‘good old game of dice’ as part of the after-show celebrations). The finale is, of course, Bloodshake, doing the radio rounds at the moment. It’s a conventional hipster anthem in the making, but they go out in style, streamers, flashing lights and all.
But six songs is a short set and there’s other flickers of evidence that this is a band in their infancy, perhaps catapulted into the limelight a little early given it’s pretty much on the back of only a four-track EP. Before they all come on stage, Koissier coyly tests the height of his mic stand with an imaginary strum of the guitar. Perhaps he doesn’t trust himself to make an adjustment in situe. Musically, it’s admirably polished (and admirably un-coiffured, unlike, say, Two Door Cinema Club, a band I’ve seen them compared to. By idiots.) Though there are moments that don’t feel quite practised enough – the drum fill partway through the second verse of California Daze is slack, for example. It’s very easy to declare a new indie band as ‘the next big thing’ – I’ll refrain from doing so here because they didn’t demonstrate enough breadth here. But The Guardian’s comment that they were ‘the future of indie’ is more defensible – though the future of Peace themselves is unpredictable, hopefully the trend of unpretentious, intelligent indie music that doesn’t speak down to its audience is here to stay.
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