Photo credit: Emma Swann and Sarah-Louise Bennett, DIY Mag.
It appears that, year after year, our sleepy Devon town shall forever receive the attention of exciting bands and artists on tour during exam season. It was so with Benjamin Francis Leftwich last year and Jack Garratt the year before that, dividing fans into the gutted-but-responsible and the going-with-a-guilty-conscience – though with an act as thrilling as Honeyblood in town, the responsible are surely undeserving anyway.
We arrive just in time for ferocious Welsh band Estrons (which means ‘aliens’ in Welsh), who in a matter of minutes turn a couple of standing onlookers into restless hoppers on the spot. Brutally love-me-not anthem I’m Not Your Girl makes this transition an inevitability and you can spot the fans in the know as they furiously stomp the floor with every ruthless lyric of rejection. Later appears debut single Make a Man, a coquettishly daring sexual challenge put to music, far too suggestive this early on a Tuesday evening. The blistering warm-up set is unfortunately fraught with the technical difficulties of a faulty mic lead, which is disappointing from a venue such as Phoenix, but Estrons persevere see it through to final song Drop, which takes no prisoners. Lead singer Tali ends by saying ‘this was a shit mic but a great night’ – by the sound of it, the crowd is inclined to agree.
Honeyblood walk onstage with a backdrop of a swelling projection of their logo paired with cult-like chanting of ‘babes never die’ from the new album’s intro– a neat little act which would have been a great way to begin, were it not for Stina having to run backstage again for some reason, leaving Cat awkwardly waiting in the dark in front of the expectant crowd in complete silence, utterly killing all the foreboding momentum the introduction conjured up. So not the best of starts, but sure enough one chord in and the mood is set once more. Justine, Misery Queen kicks off their brand of 90’s-inspired surf-tinged guitar fuzz, balanced by Stina’s clear and honeyed vocal delivery atop.
Scorching comeback single Ready for the Magic truly sets things underway and Cat’s harmonies are on point. This is followed by my personal favourite of the debut, Choker, after which Cat, awfully politely, asks Stina to check her setlist – the fact that the drummer accommodated seamlessly to the song mix-up, making it a laughable inconvenience, merely serves as a testament to their ability and just how much musical and personal chemistry there is between these two, especially considering Cat wasn’t the original drummer. Third member Sebastian, the collective name they’ve given to the bass notes and samples played by Cat, is then given a starring role in Love is a Disease.
The girls are noticeably uncomfortable with the eerie silence of the crowd in between sets – ‘Wow, you are so polite’, they point out, clearly used to a more cosmopolitan crowd chatting in between songs. This leads to some fledgling attempts at banter, shocking at first as they are having to adjust to a hall in COMPLETE SILENCE. But as the set progresses, it starts to come out more naturally and endearing. Anecdotes of Devon start to emerge, such as Cat’s pre-teen coastal romance which allegedly took place entirely on rollerblades, sparking and totally spontaneous impromptu jam on the subject, nudged on by Stina and sounding genuinely great – ‘one for the third album’, she sniggers.
Poignant new album closer Gangs then follows, Stina’s most personal song to date, but setlist confusion strikes again (Stina: ‘This song’s called Hey, Stellar, Cat: ‘Is it?’). Yet it is all fun and games, and refreshingly so; being in a band, even glaring mistakes can still be funny, but you’ve got to be good – and they are. Dragged Up gets the whole room dancing and the awesome Sea Hearts, declared onstage to be ‘about tequila’, truly is about going out with friends and having cracker of a night. ‘Who’s with their best friend!’, they exclaim, at which point I jump on a guy from a 1st year seminar I never attended and we all sing the earworm refrain that is ‘It’s just a little heartbreak!’
There are calls for first album favourite Biro, which only increase as the thought of the song returns to everyone’s collective memory, though that is a curveball they were not prepared for; Stina tries, but it’s so spontaneous that she is out of practice: ‘computer says no’, she giggles. Super Rat then gives us the scathing singalong of ‘I WILL HATE YOU FOREVER’ which is impossible not to enjoy and they end on the debut album’s Killer Bangs – a banger by name and nature. An evening riddled by awkward jitters and technical difficulties, overcome by winning over the crowd with charming smiles and nasty noise.