This tiny pub, hidden amongst the cabaret and karaoke bars of St James’s Street, usually puts on blues, country and folk, with the likes of Oysterband and the late Gary Moore amongst those to have graced the small corner that passes for a stage. Tonight is something of a change from the usual fare, and the staff have had a tough week explaining Wednesday’s band to the regulars.
When mention of ‘dark cabaret’ and the Dresden Dolls draws a blank, how then do you explain Birdeatsbaby’s music to a fan of conventional, dare we say old-fashioned, music? “It’s a mixture of Weimar cabaret, like in the Liza Minnelli film; Gothic punk, like Siouxsie and the Banshees; violin-led classical music; and klezmer, which is the sort of stuff clowns in circuses fall over to.” Heck, they’ll either turn up to the gig intrigued, or move out of town terrified. Especially when they clock the mannequin guarding the merchandise table. It’s safe to say this weekend’s blues acts won’t be selling branded hot pants.
First up is Annaca. Not to be confused with local dance vocalist Anneka, Annaca plays what she herself describes as ‘shadowy gypsy jazz’. Supported by acoustic guitar and male backing vocals, her husky voice and intricate piano work provide a gentle appetizer, a lighter take on the dark cabaret genre – twilight cabaret, perhaps? Tracks like ‘Haunted’, a tale of psychological scarring using the language of horror movies, set the table well for Birdeatsbaby’s set. Indeed the two bands are later seen talking about booking further gigs together.
On to the headliners then. This is the official Brighton launch party for their second album ‘Feast of Hammers’. In many ways it’s a live dress rehearsal for the weekend’s London launch, but friends and fans are out in force. One committed soul is undertaking a 350 mile round-trip from Bristol for tonight’s gig, and will be getting back home when the milk floats are out. Fellow dark cabaret darlings Bitter Ruin are in the front row.
BEB open with the new album’s title track, a brooding slow-build number that will forever bring to mind its accompanying blood-splattered retro horror music video. Across a twelve song set, thunderous rhythm from the boys on bass and drums blends with pointed orchestral stabs from the girls on piano and violin, giving the band a wide dynamic range that at times struggles with the small size of the venue.
In a few of the louder songs, Charlie’s drums wrestle with Mishkin’s vocals from some vantage points, whilst sounding perfect from elsewhere in the room. That’s a small price to pay for the intimacy of the setting, and indeed gives added edge to the more powerful musical sections, which feel at times as if the music is trying to burst out through the enclosing walls.
New single ‘Incitatus’, with its overlapping voices-in-the-head lyrics, is particularly menacing tonight. As is closer ‘The Trouble’, an orchestral maelstrom (un)hinged around one repeated riff that burrows ever deeper into the brain; this has never sounded tighter than it does tonight. Even the support act mouths a breathstruck “fucking hell” at those stood behind her as the final chord reverberates around the room and the queue for signed CDs starts to form. Scary stuff. But in a good way.
Ranelagh, Wednesday 15th February 2012
Photos by Marcel Zion