Gathering Festival returned to Oxford this week, playing various venues along Cowley Road, and OxStu Music found out what all the fuss was about, bringing you extensive coverage from a busy day of live music.
LOCAL NATIVES (@ O2 Academy)
A life goal has been fulfilled and that goal was to see Local Natives perform live; specifically it was to see Local Natives perform ‘Sun Hands’ live. I got to see ‘Sun Hands’ at more at the Local Natives’ Gathering set at the O2 Oxford Academy and I am a changed woman.
The band entered the stage and immediately launched into ‘Breakers’ transitioned smoothly to ‘World News’, which shocked and awed me to say the least. Their energy was absolutely infectious, getting the crowd moving even more as they stomped their feet and danced about the stage. The energy didn’t waver throughout the 13 song set, which was a fantastic mix of songs from both albums (though I will admit I am partial to Gorilla Manor). The best part of the set, if I really had to pick, was the last two songs, ‘Who Knows Who Cares’ and ‘Sun Hands’. The crowd exploded during ‘Sun Hands’ and so did the O2 lighting system. It was everything I had ever hoped for in a Local Natives show. I always feel this way, but there’s just something special about being at a show where it feels like everyone in the audience is singing along and knows all of the words to a song. Feels like a community, you know? Now I’m getting weird and sentimental.
I have always been thoroughly impressed with how this band harmonizes in every song. But seeing it done live on the first try is even more impressive and frankly gave me goose bumps. They began “Warning Sign” completely acapella, just Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, and Ryan Hahn singing a beautiful harmony only to have it break into crazy guitar rifts. That’s what great about Local Natives: they start songs out slow and then just explode into noise, lovely, lovely noise.
Also, shout out to both Ayer and Matt Frazier for their percussion work. Local Natives wouldn’t be half as good without their percussion work, with Ayer on the bass drum doing crazy things with drum sticks and Frazier on the drum set just doing his drum thing. Specifically, Ayer is the master of multi-tasking, with a drumstick in one hand and the keyboard at the other while also singing in harmony with his other band mates. While he looks like he is in excruciating pain as he sings, I feel like I understand why, he’s got a lot of work to do on that stage.
The weirdest part of the show was a tie between the drunk guys dancing like helicopters and Local Natives bassist. The drunk guts are self explanatory. The bassist was partial to wandering off to the back of the stage and attempting the moon walk. His bass playing was great, there wasn’t anything wrong with that, he just stood out as the guy in the crazy colourful ‘90s button down doing a weird moon walk move in the background.
Local Natives was the best way I could have imagined my Gathering experience ending. Their energy and their talent exceeded all of my expectations and have satisfied a long-time fan. Hopefully they didn’t see too much of my overenthusiastic dancing and singing-along.
DRENGE (@ The Bullingdon)
As the gangly frame of frontman Eoin Loveless strides onstage to peruse the forest of effects pedals at his feet, the sloshed punter to my right can’t help but scream at the top of his lungs, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Drenge guy!’ Never mind that we’re only in the early stages of the soundcheck; the crowd, already blissfully aware of what they’re in for, punctuate every squall of distorted tuning-up and snare smash with drunken howls and chanting. It’s plain to see that most of the crowd, drawn in by previous band Cheatahs’ Mascis-channelling noise pop, have chosen to hang around. And why shouldn’t they; Drenge, a two-man brother-band from the implausible setting of Castleton, Derbyshire, deliver raucous, riff-driven blues-punk as only a Peak District upbringing can nourish.
The second the band launches straight into clattering punk salvo ‘Gun Crazy’, it’s clear that their dubious plugging from former Labour Deputy Chair Tom Watson was merely surplus to requirements. Loveless’ blues licks and droning, slacker vocals combined with his brother Rory’s breakneck, tireless drumming spawns a sound best described as the unlikely adopted child of Muddy Waters and Black Flag. Speaking of the luminary bluesman, their tongue-in-cheek, gloriously petulant pastiche of his classic ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’ is notably absent from their set tonight. However, the second number, a charming ditty titled ‘I Wanna Break You In Half’ grants the crowd zero respite as Loveless grips his guitar like it was the neck of the song’s unfortunate subject; his sister’s boyfriend. The unrestrained bile of his delivery is something to behold. From that point on, the set goes from strength to strength; ‘Bloodsports’ segues from skittering palm-muted guitar to a rolling 6/8 riff that feels like an Irish jig on ecstasy, the irresistible groove of ‘Nothing’ brings a slinky, sadomasochistic swagger to proceedings, and the steamrolling hometown tribute ‘Backwaters’ feels more like the kind of southern-fried sludge-metal championed by bearded bikers twice these fey English lads’ age (not to mention BMI). By the time they close with current single ‘Face Like A Skull’ (which boasts a riff which even Cobain would be proud to call his own), moustachioed hipsters and sweaty hardcore kids alike are gleefully bashing shoulders. I wouldn’t often second a disgraced politico’s opinion, but in this case I’ll make an exception; if you need music to annihilate the last dregs of fresher’s flu, then see Drenge and have a dance. And, unless your heart’s as heavy as the concrete block apparently around your feet, then dance you will.
LONDON GRAMMAR (@ O2 Academy)
When I think music festival, I think giant hot and sweaty outdoor events with hordes of people crowding around massive stages. This was not what I got at the Gathering; instead I got smaller, more intimate shows and more specifically, I got to see London Grammar up close and personal in the front row of O2 Oxford Academy.
If I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with London Grammar before the show. I had listened to them in passing over the last few months but I had never given their whole album a proper listen. I’d like to think the surprise of hearing most of this music for the first time was what made the show so superb. All I could think about before they started was what the hell the bongo drum was for and why the microphones had to be adjusted around it so many times. When the band first entered the stage, they all looked relatively unassuming. The thing that struck me most was how much Dot Major (synth and percussions expert) resembled a dishevelled member of One Direction. But once the music started playing and Hannah Reid opened her mouth, all assumptions went away and all that was left was beautiful music.
They opened with ‘Hey Now’, the opening track of their album If You Wait which was a perfect way to start their set. It set the proper tone for the rest of the show. It was a very dark and more subdued set but that didn’t make it boring; it was music you could sway to and get lost in. By the time they began ‘Strong’, the audience’s energy had picked up and was singing loudly along with Reid. So much talent is packed into this mere trio, it’s ridiculous. Their music seems simple enough but there are so many parts they are putting together live on stage, with Dot doing the brunt of the work but seamlessly so.
The best song, in my opinion, was their cover of The Weekend’s ‘Wicked Games’, giving it a slow almost creepy vibe.
The only bad part of the show was its sudden end. Reid was having technical difficulties with her in-ear monitor and was having difficulty singing, although I really couldn’t tell. I was shocked they didn’t have any other devices for her to use or some other fix for the problem because it seemed like a cop-out to just stop the show halfway through just when the crowd was getting excited. I’m nothing close to a tech expert, though, so maybe there were circumstances of which I was completely unaware. Either way, I was thoroughly disappointed that the set had to be cut so short.
Despite the unexpected ending, London Grammar put on a hell of a show with some of the most impressive new music talent I’ve heard in awhile. I think I fell in love with Hannah Reid’s voice if not Hannah Reid herself. If you like The XX, you’d love London Grammar even more.
MT WOLF (@ St. John The Evangelist)
Kate Sproule’s angelic and classically trained voice was well suited to the setting of St John the Evangelist. In fact, this was the perfect choice of venue for Mt Wolf. One of the more low-key venues of the festival, it complemented the band’s soothing folktronic side, while providing a stark and effective contrast with their darker lyrics and heavy rock climaxes. The result was a charged atmosphere and a satisfied, sometimes mesmerized audience.
The band, who took a day off from their tour with Ghost Poet to appear at Gathering, gave an impressive performance that showcased their talent for seamless live sampling of acoustics and vocals. The band aims not to use pre-recorded material and evidently enjoyed layering their own sounds on stage to create a unique blend of bass and serene vocal harmony.
After only a few initial hitches, sound quality was excellent and well-balanced.
‘Life Size Ghosts’ was the highlight of the set, closely followed by ‘Veins’.
DENAI MOORE (@ Cowley Road Methodist Church)
This shy and instantly loveable Londoner won the hearts of her audience in a soulful set of only six songs.
Denai Moore introduced her band early in the gig, the ‘amazing’ Joe (drums) and Keeva (keyboard). Together with Moore’s basic guitar accompaniment they form a simple trio that is ideally minimal, allowing the nineteen year-old’s stunningly powerful voice to shine.
It wasn’t until after several numbers, however, that the singer remembered to introduce herself: ‘My name’s Denai Moore by the way, I just realized I completely forgot to say that.’ The audience was putty.
Despite seeming nervous, Moore was in control of her performance, which was only improved by being a little more raw and rough around the edges than her recorded work. She even showed a little quiet sassiness in the later, more upbeat numbers – notably in the uplifting, folk-infused interlude of ‘Everything’.
The set included Moore’s latest track, ‘The Lake’, as well as her very first Sound Cloud number, ‘Flaws’. Her warm and heartfelt vocals – she often sounds on the verge of tears – gave the audience a sense of being confided in.
Moore closed the set alone on stage with fan favourite ‘Gone’, an intimate and hymn-like solo that showed maturity beyond her years.
PHOTO // Harry Lawlor