The Birthday Massacre / Vanilla Sugar / Witch of the Vale – The Fulford Arms, York, 2nd November 2022

Posted: 5 November 2022 in Live
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It’s a wet and blustery and very northern night in York, but this eagerly-anticipated rescheduled show from The Birthday Massacre, which sold out this intimate 150-capacity venue long ago has brought the old goths out of the woodwork like a swarm of woodlice, and with doors advertised as being as an early 7:00, it’s busy on my arrival at 7:20, and despite Witch of the Vale not due on till 7:45, already the front rows are solid.

The synth-heavy, mood heavy Cleopatra Records signings Witch of the Vale deliver a magnificent set of dark brooding ambient with ethereal vocals and combine spacious moody soundscapes and introspective vulnerability. There are strong hints of Zola Jesus, but also so much more. Harder edges and industrial percussion grow in force as the set progresses. They don’t do chat, they don’t do audience connection, but they do very much do moving, haunting atmospherics. Toward the end of their forty-five minute set, they cover Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ in an industrial shoegaze style, and it’s good. In fact, it’s all good, although instrumentalist Ryan’s denim shorts spoil the look a bit .

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Witch of the Vale

“What’s up Yorrrrrk?” I slump a little inside as Vanilla Sugar struts onto the stage. From the off, there’s lots of posing, hands up cheerleading… Suddenly, maybe three songs in, the urban cybergoth pop karaoke gets dark. That is to say Pretty Hate Machine NIN meets Kelis with direct and fairly juvenile lyrics, and while she’s got an impressive light show, it’s still urban cybergoth karaoke. ‘Listen York I want you to vibe with me now’ toots the skitzy mall goth, and while she may call it horror pop, it’s ultimately r’n’b with dayglo, pink hair, and zips, and the overreliance on backing including backing vocals which make t difficult to determine what’s actually being done live rather undermines the impact of the handful of decent tunes she does actually have, There’s lots of tongue out and Instagram posing – but not a lot else.

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Vanilla Sugar

The Birthday Massacre are as straight up goth as they come in terms of image, and have spent the last twenty-three years mining a seam of technoindustrial / electro / dark pop / goth.

This is a small stage for a big band, and I don’t just mean in terms of dimensions. Back home, they’d just played the 600-capaccity Lexington in Toronto; two nights ago it was the 200-capacity Lexington in London. The 150-capacity Fulford Arms, with its low ceiling and low stage very much epitomises the concept of ‘intimate’. But they absolutely revel in it, as do the crowd.

There’s an overpowering smell of Deep Heat at first, but that’s swiftly replaced by the tang of perspiration. It’s hot, hot, hot! Amazingly crisp, dense sound. Keytar! Instant clapalong to #’Destrpyer’ which lands early.

They repeatedly describe it as cozy, and that’s hardly surprising in context) but seem genuinely enthusiastic to be playing this intimate show with lots of handshaking and high-fiving. As they slam out relentless poppy choruses and phat chunky riffs. The drums are so tight they sound programmed, and despite the apparent chaos onstage, they’re pristine tight. It’s a proper pea-souper of a smoke show, too.

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The Birthday Massacre

I’d be entirely immersed were it not for the fact the bearded ponytail-sporting guy in front of me is an irritating end, extravagantly waving one arm while clenching his girlfriend’s waist tight with the other and dancing and singing along as if to prove he’s an uberfan. Uberfanny, more like.

‘Precious Hearts’ thuds hard, while ‘Crush’ is an anthemic slow burner. ‘Enter’ is lighter and brings giggles in the first verse. Sara does get a bit lost in the songs at times, bit rides it well, and she ventures into the crowd for hugs. It’s a hot a sweaty crowd. Fans are out. My eyeballs are sweating. Recent cut ‘Fascination’ still sounds a bit Paramore to my ears, but ‘Pins and Needles’ brings a thick industrial chug.

They do the no-departure encore, and respect is due for that. Everyone knows that going off to be clapped back on is nothing more than ego-stroking bollocks, and it’s welcome to see bands acknowledge that.

‘Falling Down’, the second song of the non-encore is a decent pop song, and they finish a high-NRG set with ‘In the Dark’. And it’s a job well done: they sound great and the energy is on fire. Wednesday nights don’t get funner than this.

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