Sundowners/ She Drew The Gun/ Four 45s/ Strawberries – Oporto Leeds, 10/2/2015

The streets of heaven are (apparently) paved with gold. In pretty much the same way the pages of facebook are paved with bands I had the fortune to see once. This will be remembered as the week a drunken rapper stormed the stage of the Grammys demanding that a cult rock artist should hand over his award to a million selling RnB one in the name of artistry – as rightly pointed out Beyonce requires about thirty songwriters and producers to get anything done. It’s a good thing I’ve always considered Beck overrated or God knows what I’d be writing (Kanye’s trap was quite cleverly baited). But I digress and there is much to discuss. I mentioned it in the first place because Kanye talked of artistry and last night served as a reminder that there is plenty of true artistry going unnoticed.

The venue was Oporto on Call Lane in Leeds. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that until this gig I wasn’t aware this long established venue existed. In terms of its wooden flooring, neon lit decor and slightly limited space (not a criticism) it reminded me of Harrogate’s Blues Bar if that venue was two rooms rather than one. I should perhaps add that the Hot Dogs (free during February 2015 apparently) looked very tasty, but again I get sidetracked.

The first band of the evening were the Strawberries, a recently formed outfit from Hyde Park in Leeds. They describe themselves as a psychedelic blues band and the first thing that strikes you about them are the garish sixties style outfits modelled not just by the vocalist and guitarist but also several members of their entourage (interestingly not so much the bassist and drummer). Given that it was easy to say what they looked like it was harder to say what they sound like; the best I can manage is a hybrid between Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd and early The Who although some of their stylings owed more to Britpop. At any rate, whatever it was, it sounded good with added approval for the fact that Strawberries are a new band. Definitely one to watch.

The Four 45s were up next and, as regular readers will have gathered, were the reason for my being there. This was my second time watching Four 45s Mark II – it is slightly unfair to compare them to their earlier incarnation. It is noticeable that the band now have a rockier feel as opposed to their previous indie sound. Curiously they’re arguably a more complex band now due to the vocal interplay between Hannah Slater and Rufus Beckett on some numbers and the fact that a female vocalist singing songs penned by male songwriters will always throw up a certain ambiguity (I’m assuming Nick Turner and Rufus Beckett remain the main songwriters – apologies if I’m wrong). Hannah herself reminded me of Gwen Stefani at the helm of No Doubt (hopefully she won’t be offended at the comparison) and the fact that she has a second job fronting folk rock group Set Sails shows her versatility as a vocalist. The Four 45s were Harrogate’s best band and Harrogate best band they remain.

Next up were She Drew The Gun. This band weren’t listed on the facebook page for the event and it’s not entirely clear whether what we saw was the full act or a stripped down acoustic version. At first I thought it would be hard to review but the combination of poetry and visual projections made this the most striking section of the night and certainly the most intense. More than the other three acts on the bill, She Drew The Gun’s set lingered in my mind after it ended in a burst of echo. I’ve lingered over this next sentence as there was something here that I just couldn’t pin down; maybe rock music should be about that passing moment that forces you to return in the hope of another glimpse.

One complaint here – not the band’s fault. I would have enjoyed the early part of the set more if not for the people talking loudly at the back of the main room. FFS there’s a band playing semi acoustically and there’s a bar area on the other side of the curtain if you want to talk. Rant over.

Sundowners are a psychedelic rock (their words) outfit from Liverpool embarking on a headline tour to promote their new album. With two female co-vocalists they struck me as reminiscent of Nicks/ McVie era Fleetwood Mac in their less commercial moments; in fact if Stevie Nicks ever did an album of Stone Roses covers you sort of have the idea. It may take a few listens of their album for the songs to come into full focus and I can’t be sure how many of those in Oporto had come specifically to see them (and thus heard the songs before) but what is certain is that Sundowners had the whole audience moving as one and their sound was beguiling enough for newcomers not to want it to end.

So a cold Leeds night in February, three bands (Four 45s need to be treated seperately) that I may or may not get to see again. Rock music is hard to write about tbh (no wonder many critics resort to cliche and/or pretension) but there’s no substitute for the music itself. Why do I write these blogs? I suppose it’s to spread the word that so much great music and artistry is out there if only people would go out and find it.

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