by Evan Phillips
Photo credit: Matt Widgery
It’s an early start to proceedings on this clear and cold Bristol evening. The canal looks frigid and uninviting as ever, but the lights around Thekla’s gang plank are attractive enough to have a small crowd already gathering outside before doors at the frightfully early time of 6pm. As everyone files below deck, I take stock of what will be Gengahr’s captive audience tonight. They consist almost entirely of your typical Indie kids who seem to range from their teens to their twenties; thrift store shirts and Doc Martens are the order of the day with both the crowd and the bands tonight. Then there’s a few more seasoned gig goers who, I guess, are old shoegazers coming to check out the new blood, as it were. A gaggle of girls next to me are talking loudly about their Biology exam next week, I’m reminded of GCSE’s, and wish they’d talk about something else.
Fortunately, opening act Low Island waltz on stage a few moments later to distract me- and what a distraction they are. Their opening track kicks things off at a roaring pace, the drum and bass riffs propulsive and the guitars enjoyably blaring, but as they work through the rest of their short set, the band show themselves to be far more dreamy, danceable and deft with their songwriting. There’s a lingering air of Radiohead circa In Rainbows (something they have in common with Gengahr’s new material) as their two frontmen switch between guitars, synthesisers and lead vocals. There are airy falsettos and spacey electronic drums in some of the more subdued numbers, and warm waves of synth bass between tight drum patterns; it’s a solid balance between the harder cuts and the songs that let the now growing audience drift along with them. By the time they walk off, everybody’s grooving.
Gengahr are it seems not quite at the level of rock and roll indulgence where they can recline at length backstage practicing their best sneers while a small army of roadies set the stage for them, so they emerge unceremoniously to plug in and tune up. Thekla’s own tech team do appear to be laying on the smoke rather heavily though, so it’s a bit hard to tell what’s going on onstage; that could be Rick Wakeman up there, hell, with all this fog it probably is. Although, when the lights go down and Gengahr walk-on proper, all the mist backlit with pastel pink and blue lights does provide some evidence that the band’s music is akin to the wispy, sugary joy of candy-floss in more ways than one. Opener Is This How You Love spools up with its almost synthetic guitar hook before bursting into life in the singalong chorus that sends waves through the crowd. Early single Heroine follows immediately and elicits the first big reaction of the night, the audience loosening up and jumping throughout the swirling outro; guitarist John Victor and frontman Felix Bushe both swinging their guitars as they slap on layers of distortion. Before we go any further I have to say every member of Gengahr sounds fantastic tonight; Danny Wards drums are taught and precise, Hugh Schulte’s bass is muscular sounding and both John and Felix’s guitars at various points swell, melt, ring and scorch the air.
While the band play a concise set of songs, there is no shortage of sonic highlights. From the glittering Before Sunrise and the instrumental Dark Star, to the trampolining riffs of Burning Air and Pull Over (Now) and a standout Fill My Gums With Blood that leaves a few swooning as Bushe breaks out his gorgeous falsetto; if anything, even more impressive against the deeper vocals of much of the newer material. They close with the title track of their new album, Where Wildness Grows; Thekla’s heard more than half the record tonight and the new songs have all gone down extremely well, the closer is no exception. The building guitars and the bittersweet cadence are a bold way to end the show, and yet as the band depart they seem to know they’re not done just yet.
At first, it’s just Bushe who comes back to the stage, remarking ‘all right, let’s see what we can do’ before starting Lonely As A Shark solo for the first verse and chorus before the band return and tear through the remainder of the song. Single Carrion is the last hurrah of the night - which is still young, not even 10 o’ clock yet- but it’s a rousing end filled with Sonic Youth-esque riffs and driving grooves. It ends with rapturous applause and cheering, the band look genuinely humbled at such a warm reception and, while I wish they’d played longer, wishing there was simply more of something doesn’t amount to a whole lot of criticism overall. Just another way Gengahr are like candy-floss I suppose, it doesn’t hang around for long, but you always want to go back for more.