Based on the number of big names in British rock music that have moved away from the sound and scene that made them, it seems that progression is the way to further your career. Lower Than Atlantis now reside firmly in Radio 1 House Band territory, while Don Broco’s constant switching up of their sound saw them play a sold-out Alexandra Palace just over a week ago. Deaf Havana may not have made as much progress in terms of more mainstream-pointed success, but love has only grown and grown for them. They’ve planted their flag deep in the soil they grew from, a move (or non-move) that has seen them slowly become the poster boys for the scene that was so huge in 2011. This winter, in support of album All These Countless Nights, they’ve brought Decade and Black Foxxes out on the road with them to show naysayers that British rock is still going strong.
The crowd is admittedly sparse for Decade (8), but it has no effect on onstage morale. There are smiles all round as they bust through songs like Anaemia and Turn Off Your TV. Decade have long been one of the tightest bands in the scene, and this short set certainly proves not only that, but how invaluable vocalist/guitarist Connor Fathers is to their live setup. While excellent lead vocalist Alex Sears is obviously the focal point, the effect of Fathers’ flitting between providing extra beefing up and extra sweetness both vocally and instrumentally when needed is much more noticeable and easily appreciated than it would be for most others in his role. The Alex Sears and His Tambourine narrative that unfolds throughout the half an hour is hilarious too – him yelling “FUCKING TAMBOURINE” before erupting into a ‘solo’, later throwing it full-force behind the drums and a couple of songs later brandishing it, joyfully declaring he found it. While Wasted and Brand New Again don’t quite possess the bounce the room is clearly looking for in order to get involved, it’s still a set full of personality and a perfect introduction to one of British rock’s best kept secrets.
Mood-wise, Black Foxxes (8) are a definite shift. As always, the sound is turned up to eleven too, and this sudden change in volume causes multiple people in the room to jump out of their skin during the intro to opener Husk. The Exeter trio are on top form tonight, especially singer Mark Holley, whose particularly good grasp of dynamics (both musically and emotionally) is awe-inspiring. Songs like Whatever Lets You Cope and stunning closer River truly shine, although the latter perhaps does overstay its welcome slightly with the extended outro. As shown with Decade, the crowd isn’t in much of a mood to participate too excitedly with supports, and sadly this is all too obvious during the quieter parts of Black Foxxes’ songs when the buzz of conversation, although not loud enough to be truly rude, can be heard underneath the instrumentation. Holley’s powerful belting during certain quiet moments, again, makes people jump, and it’s something he earns giggles from later by jokingly mentioning he’d rather be in a jazz band because of how much quieter it’d be. With their new album reiði having just been announced, crowds on this tour have of course had previews. And judging by both the new material aired and their overall performance in this half hour, the best is clearly yet to come for Black Foxxes.
Due to the mildly uninterested nature of the crowd tonight, it’s something of a relief when Deaf Havana (8) arrive onstage to nothing but adoration. The change in atmosphere in the room is palpable, from quiet and slightly awkward, if anything, to full of open happiness and strangers joyfully hugging each other, waving their beers in the air. As a live band, Deaf Havana are an understatedly brilliant one. There’s no aspect of this being a show rather than just a set (unless sporadic Stranger Things clips between every handful of songs counts), but that’s in no way a bad thing. Onstage are just five ridiculously talented regular guys who just happen to be in a band. They’re just here to play songs and do it well, and any banter between them (usually between brothers James and Matt Veck-Gilodi) is completely organic and wholesome. Sometimes it does have the potential to grate, like when frontman James thanks the audience for coming to see his band again and again and again, but it’s all too easy to overlook.
With a live band as great as Deaf Havana, the only real thing they control that could ruin one of their sets is setlist choice. Tonight’s running order is a strange one, with the majority being made up of a lot of unexpected cuts from their 2011 classic album Fools And Worthless Liars and 2013’s Old Souls as well as songs from new, less buzzed-about album All These Countless Nights. The room is full of fans so everything is received equally well, but from a more objective standpoint, some newer material does suffer. The delivery is so near-perfect that this may seem like unnecessary nitpicking, but comparing Seattle to set highs like Mildred and Sing does leave something of a quality gap.
But no matter the issues with setlists, there’s a guarantee that with a Deaf Havana show, you’ll get a good night. Big hits like I’m A Bore, Mostly and 22 may not have been aired tonight, but this is a set for the fans. Rarity Times Change, Friends Leave And Life Doesn’t Stop For Anybody was met with euphoria, and closer Anemophobia Part II, unorthodox a choice as it may be, is certainly not something likely to be aired in a live setting very often in the future. Managing to be so resilient in their scene, as well as show such elasticity is an enviable feat, and for that, they more than deserve their crowns as the new kings of mainstream British rock.
Words by Georgia Jackson