“I’ve fucked my wrist – chipped a bone in rehearsal.” I’m talking to Dom Smith, drummer with Seep Away. His band are due on in ten minutes. Should he even be playing? He’s not exactly a gentle percussionist. But as he and the rest of the band take to the stage to Hole’s ‘Doll Parts’, it’s clear he’s adrenalized and up for going all out. Screamer Jay is kitted out in full mini-skirted drag and looking killer. Seep Away get harder, heavier, denser and louder with each outing, and tonight, Jay is even more manic and confrontational than ever, writhing on his knees among the front rows.
Brooders might have a tough act to follow, but if it bothers them, they’re not showing it. They may be young – they certainly look it – but this power trio are solid as they come. They knock out some driving grunge tunes, which are dark, dense, and weighty, but also so much more. They pack in some neat and hooky melodies alongside the chunky, bass-driven noise: in many respects, they’re the quintessence of 90s alt-rock, and they know how to nail down a hefty Nirvana-inspired riff.
Hands Off Gretel have drawn a decent crowd, particularly for a Thursday night that’s blessed with beer garden weather. In fact, it’s a battle to get a decent spot down the front on account of the clamour of folks with their phones out, filming. It’s not hard to see – or hear – why: they’re a killer live band, who combine a raw, ragged energy with a musical tightness. And there’s simply no sidestepping the appeal of Lauren Tate.
Hands Off Gretel
I’ve been criticised on occasion for commenting on the physical attributes of women in bands, because despite the fact I’m equally likely to comment on the physical aspects of a man in a band, it’s not really the done thing. But Lauren Tate doesn’t so much invite the eyes to focus on her, but demands it. If the powder-blue hot pants and matching top, accompanied by knee-high socks, is sort of cutesy-sexy, the heavy eye makeup, smeared lipstick and truly ferocious full-throated vocal is terrifying. It’s the perfect paradox of appeal and repel, the cheerleader slut who’ll murder you and play with the blood. This, of course, makes her the embodiment of the grunge style; the oppositional elements of quiet / loud, melody and discord, introspection and screaming rage. And the songs encapsulate all of this perfectly. Yes: let’s not forget the songs, or the rest of the band. Both are equally essential to the band’s appeal.
Hands Off Gretel
Tonight, airing a set built around debut album Burn the Beauty Queen, the band positively tear into the guts of those songs, channelling every ounce of fury into those angst-filled aural assault. Dropping ‘Be Mine’ as the second track of the set, it’s a shuddering, full-on bass-led attack. ‘Bad Egg’ is served with a huge dose of venomous self-loathing, and ‘One-Eyed Girl’ is pure Live Through This era Hole – although unlike their forebears, Hands Off Gretel don’t sound ropey, and you can be pretty confident they’ll make it all the way through the set. And by the end of the set, everyone’s a sweaty mess, uplifted by the joy of catharsis.