This is kind of an odd case, because it feels as though it shouldn’t be one that Deaf Havana of all bands are in. They’ve often been undervalued in British rock given how they’ve been able to adapt amid shifting trends while subsequently elevating themselves above being seen as just that, but in the past, they’ve been somewhat able to mask it. Here though, on a headline tour just a handful of months after their last, and following their own apparent assertions of ‘high ticket warnings’, it doesn’t give off the most stable of positions for a band who’ve been doing this for as long as Deaf Havana have. Even for as familiar as the brink of implosion has felt for them over the years, they’ve always been able to pull back, to where you can view this show as more an experiment for whether they can do that again.
But enough of that; the show itself is what matters. And when you’ve got a band like The LaFontaines opening—off the back of their own extended period of inactivity—it can almost singlehandedly wash any concerns away. Even with their couple of years’ radio silence, they still sound impressively sharp, in a concoction of Britrock, indie and hip-hop that has plenty of pliability, not to mention holding a catalogue of real jams the band have quietly built up. They might have fallen on the back-burner, but King, Under The Storm, Alpha and basically everything else have fixed themselves so tightly in that they really do hit with a swift wallop. Plus, there’s as much charisma here as you’ll usually find from a Scottish alt-rock act (i.e. a lot), even in an extended riff on batteries that would probably feel drawn-out if Kerr Okan wasn’t so deeply charming and likable. In other words, for a band who one might presume had broken up about half-a-decade ago, The LaFontaines are still firing furiously.
With Sick Joy, meanwhile…not really. They aren’t bad, per se, but following that kind of first impression tilts much of the neutrality in an expression like ‘function-over-fashion grunge’ into a bit more of a negative. Though not totally devoid of firepower, it can be hard to pinpoint—a bass groove here, a patch of guitar snarl there, but very little that leaves a lasting impact. Between a stark lack of variety and Mykl Barton not exactly being the most electrifying personality in the world, it’s all a little clock-in-clock-out at the end of the day. Hell, when Barton kicks his own mic stand off the stage the second before the set’s over, that’s the most explosive that any of this gets, by a mile. That should say a lot.
Honestly though, it’s all just window-dressing for Deaf Havana anyway, to yet again reassert a dominance that should see them packing venues multiple times this size by now. It’s not a badly-sized crowd at the end of it all, but it’s spottier than you’d like to see, especially for a band as minutely accomplished in every alt-rock avenue they take as Deaf Havana are. Songs come exclusively from their last four albums, and despite roots between them that span rustic folk-rock to neon alt-pop with sparing crossover, there’s never anything patchy or misshapen. Quite the opposite, actually, as every shift in dynamic is spot-on. Largely that comes from averaging it all out to a cleaner alt-rock sound touched with synth and programmed edges, but there’s still a crunch to the opening pair of Boston Square and Sing that’s unmistakable, and the sprawling, boundless shredding that Caro Padre morphs into towers exactly as high as it should.
It’s worth noting how many album closers and climaxes are dropped as part of the usual set routine. They’re all at rather even intervals too, with Pensacola, 2013, Caro Padre and Remember Me chronicling the peaks and troughs of Deaf Havana’s catalogue in a way that comes so naturally. As far as set construction goes, it’s difficult to fault from any angle, and that’s completely reflected in the performance. Okay, the added bass onto Nevermind can swamp out some of its acoustic wistfulness a bit, but that’s as close to a black mark as you’ll get. Otherwise, the transition from a piano-only version of Holy into Hell’s stomping stalk is absolutely seamless, while newer cuts like 19dreams and Going Clear are already fine addition into a pantheon of undeniable live anthems that only swells even larger on every cycle.
Technical bugs do pop up every now and then (as they have the entire night, to be honest), but never to a derailing extent. Even if there’s a bit of shakiness to James Veck-Gilodi’s vocal mixing sometimes, it’s not something that lets him down, or that he can’t plough through in the sort of steamrolling emotional display this is his bread-and-butter at this point. That same tightness is abundant all round; for an act primarily slimmed down to a duo in recent years and reliant on a touring band to bolden out their sound, there’s really no disconnect or unevenness to be felt. Between that and the endless well of bangers that Deaf Havana have at their disposal, whatever initial negativity or trepidation was present is a far-flung memory now. In alt-rock, pop-rock, alt-pop or whatever else you want to call it, pound for pound, Deaf Havana continue to have one of the most consistent and mountainous hit rates of them all. Long may that be the case.
Words by Luke Nuttall
Photos by Faye Roberts (Instagram)