Sweat headline a night of up and coming acts on the tiny Old Blue Last stage as if they’re playing one of London’s biggest stages. With far more humility, newcomer Azusena earlier sings six alternative pop songs that reveal a knack for smart musical arrangements underpinned by a beautiful voice.
Accompanied by a mellow guitarist and an understated keyboard player, Azusena sparks comparisons with a huge range of different musicians — Everything But The Girl, because of the way quietly insistent reverb guitar works with the velvety vocals on tracks like ‘Red Sky’; Jeff Buckley when she gets impassioned on ‘Crosby’ (a recent online single); Young Marble Giants for the guitar sound on ‘First To Know’; and, unlikely as it may seem, Adele on tonight’s last trippy pop song, ‘It’s What You Love’. A ’90s synth sensibility in the instrumentation meets modern soul intonation in the singing.
Azusena lays down percussion by playing cassettes on an old boom box, with the slow heartbeat on ‘Better’ making for a sultry and seductive mood. “Give me a second; just changing the tape,” she says before the last track. This backing tape is more poppy, with a Latin American feel, to go with touches of jazz-funk in the guitar playing and jazz vocal delivery. The tape breaks, but Azusena shrugs off this mishap and carries on to the end without missing a beat. She’s one to watch.
Big, beefy bassist Audun Laading, wiry guitarist Stephen Fitzpatrick and a drum machine make up Her’s. Lead singer Fitzpatrick’s voice is surprisingly deep, like Edwin Collins but less endearing, except when he goes falsetto, as on ‘What Once Was’. His melodies sometimes err on the whingey side of Morrissey. The duo’s alt-pop has a sense of fun, so while it may sound a bit like The The, it’s more silly smile than uncertain smile. They may be daft and full of bants, but they’re also pretty tight — fading out live to end the first song.
Some of Her’s is like elements of Britpop (Pulp for instance) meeting the US indie-pop sound of Beirut at its most Talking Heads-ish. A song perhaps called ‘Jazz World’ has jazzy, funky bass, as it should. A much faster fourth track is deliberately jangly, reminiscent of ’60s pop or early ’80s pop group Haircut 100 — “that’s as fast as it’ll get tonight… we’re going to take it right down.” It gets a bit too slow, verging on doo-whop, but the last two songs are well received.
The small crowd is made to wait for Sweat. More than 10 minutes late, singer Dante Traynor makes a big front man’s entrance. This London five-piece barely fits on the tiny stage, but they are hugely polished and perform as if they are already a big name — first song ‘Generous Guy’ takes funky pop and blends it with some elements of the Madchester sound and a reincarnation of Michael Hutchence of INXS, replete with leather trousers.
“There must be a million… a million and a half people out there,” Traynor beams… No, mate, more like a few dozen. The musicians are immersed in their own sound, leaving eye contact to their main man. If at times he’s trying to be a new age Jim Morrison, and the guitar occasionally recalls Robby Krieger from The Doors, at other moments the effect is more like Jim Kerr in his pop prime with Simple Minds.
Sweat produce loud, carefully constructed pop, mixed to perfection to accentuate the vocals. The glam-pop of ‘Tambourine’, with its Duran Duran-style synth textures and guitar solos, recalls Bowie and Roxy Music. The drumming on ‘Stay’ is as taught as a computerised drum machine, as Sweat pull out all the stops in pursuit of the perfect pop song. Sweat’s arrangements are so meticulously manufactured that the band would be excused for thinking that they barely need a producer to turn their songs from live experiences into hit records. Crisp drumming, duelling bass and guitar, whooshing keyboards and jangly tambourine combine to create premeditated indie-pop.