Downstairs is described as one of Aberdeen’s newest and best live music and entertainment venues. Visually, either side of the stage on the walls, right and left are black and white canvasses, bearing the faces of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse. It’s a fairly eclectic mix of late musicians, and is perhaps a way for the venue to indicate that they try to cater for all, like this gig in question did.
First up were local act, Rumtumtartar. They consisted of singer, guitarist/backing vocals, bassist and drummer. You could clearly see that their singer was nervous, as she tried her best to engage the crowd with small talk. Highlights included track “Funky Music”, which was funky and soulful, and her powerful voice belied the fact that she was a bag of nerves.
That song alone proved they were a band of headlining quality. Her powerful, strong voice, and the band that accompanied it, were quite rocky and grungy. The bass really underpinned everything in this one, and kept it grooving. Their music could also get quite introspective. The guitarist was a good player, but also a strong backing singer. Every member combined for the complete package.
Syncopated and funky, they could also slow down, and they could also play with much punk energy. What remained a constant, no matter what genre they touched upon, was that soulful voice. Even melancholy was done convincingly. One guitar solo was chordal and melodic and worked well for the song, instead of mindless wankery.
Growling, even, at times, and quite bluesy, Rumrumtartar, could even do picking solos; intricate and interesting. Amongst all this, the drummer was always in the pocket. The singer did deviate once from her core range, giving one number a growling conclusion. The chemistry between lead singer and backing vocalist/guitarist was good, even deploying call and response back and forth. Rounding off things, they closed with “Ann Widdecombe Is A C**t”.
Another Aberdeen act, Lock Howl, came on second. They consisted of singer/guitarist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. These guys were suited and booted, all in black. All seemed to be glugging red wine, their bassist even wearing black shades. They had powerful drumming, anchored by tom rolls. Initially the performance was marred slightly by feedback. This first song had quite a doomy middle section which slowed it down. Not for long, though, coming full circle and back into the song proper.
What proceeded was some punk infused metal. There was reverb aplenty in the vocals, by request to the engineer. Some of the bass playing was complimentive and interesting. Influence wise, the songs were at times reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler’s solo material, particularly the work he did with Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell. Good mix of sung and screamed vocals.
Moving on, there were some good use of the tom toms, as they locked in with the bass before the guitars and vocals kicked in. There were also clean vocals, too. There was also good atmospheric guitar work, giving a really spaced out vibe. Some of it was driving and high energy, evil and punky with death metal growls.
There was even thrashy elements, with what sounded like Spanish guitar thrown in one during middle section. This actually worked quite well. Their bassplayer really got amongst the crowd, and their last song was very intense. The vocals were going crazy with every hammered crash of the drummer’s cymbals. Sometimes the band, despite some very left field influences, reminded one of punk in its early days.
The main support act were Seas, Starry, also of Aberdeen. They also consisted of singer/guitarist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. These guys started laidback, slow and steady. Very shoegazing stuff. They were very evocative of their name, very atmospheric. Their opening track had a similar feel to Peter Green-era Fleetood Mac, instrumental “Albatross”. It was progressive, getting heavier than calming again.
When the drums kicked in for track two, you knew you were in for something different. It was driving, it was melodic, the dynamics of the bass were far from two dimensional. It got notably intense, considering the genre in question, and ended with wild wailing of the guitar. The guitars continued to be melodic and intriguing. The singer could go from standard rock voice to the very top of her lungs, even screaming. They comically entertained playing “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Rainbow, but only briefly.
They could also be layered and clever. The drums got that little tribal, booming; guitars and bass contemplative. An ensemble performance. Even the bassplayer brought out drum beaters for added percussion. When back on the bass, there was incredible depth added; emphatic and powerful. Furthermore of the drums, they sounded like something off the finest works by progressive metal titans, Tool.
Upon hearing this movie sample “Am I going to prom or hell?”, you knew yet again that something very different to what came before, was round the corner. This was a spirited performance, with dissonance. Pop rock power chords helped give it wider appeal. The bassist and singer/guitarist proceeded to switch instruments, just to show off their chemistry. The song kicked back for a drum and bass break. The rest of the band gradually came back in, and gradually picked up to manic speed. This infectious punk energy saw the drummer give his all, with a huge smile on his face. It was almost doom metal, in a way.
It was hard to follow on from this, but that they did. What followed opened with bluesy guitar, amidst a spaced out and mellow backdrop. The wailing guitars conveyed sheer emotion, underpinning the soul of the song. The guitarist even whipped out a bow, Jimmy Page style of Led Zeppelin. They started with what seemed an obvious shoegazing agenda, but ended up pulling all the stops in a genre spanning performance.
Headlining were Edinburgh’s Star Rover, and are were made up of singer/guitarist, bassist and drummer. Impressions from the first number, “The Stoic”, were that of a tight band, pop punk with a dark edge. There was also a bit of a swing and groove to it. Tree trunk thick bass introduced “Oxymorons”. The drummer never missed a beat, and there was a tasty guitar solo. This also featured a guitar break before the rest of the band kicked back in.
“This is NOT on EP. It’s called ‘Medic’”, and thus it began with ringing, chunky guitar, with pounding and brooding drums. It came to an abrupt and complete stop, briefly, before recommencing. Fooling the audience into thinking it’s over, when it’s not, is a tool not used enough by bands of any stature. “Alright Tonight” ripped in and was vibrant and immediate. Once again they toyed with underused dynamics, like contrast of loud and quiet for emphasis. Within this is a very brief, but tasteful, guitar solo.
What followed was the drum break for “Fix Up, Look Sharp”, by London rapper Dizzee Rascal. This was brief respite for “Limerence II”. With its frenetic drumming and bass, there was the contrast of sparse guitar. Everything soon became intense, though. All this, of course, before the drums went totally crazy.
The singer/guitarist proceeded to state he’d “completely understand” if people left to catch the live streaming of Kanye West’s new album. However, all stuck around for “Daemons”. Its verse was indie pop, before things got sizeably heavier. There was the most welcome drummer’s octave (like the introduction to “We Will Rock You” by Queen) beat, propelling the song with simplicity. Very melodic, and even the bassist turned heads, striking an expert Phil Lynott-esque pose.
What followed, “Caroline”, was fast and intense. The wheels didn’t come off the wagon, either, with the rhythm section holding it all together. The lyrics were like syncopated stabs into the microphone. The aforementioned Kanye West was in line for more than just an album plug, come the last few remaining songs.
“This is about people like Kanye West, I mean that”. With a title like “Bodies”, one would assume the message to the multiplatinum rapper to be nothing ambiguous in the slightest. That blunt message was accompanied with a somewhat surprising, slow and pondering musical backdrop. It does pick up, however, though still quite mid-tempo. Quite slow by Star Rover’s standards. The drummer then turned out a powerhouse performance to bring up the speed before the mellow introduction reappeared.
“This is an old motherf**ker called ‘Light’”. And this was how the last song of the night was introduced. It was rather cheerful, but perhaps belying how melancholy it was. It reminded one of Weezer, or something in similar vein. Generally it was quite bouncy, with an indie/Britpop-esque structure and formula. Star Rover’s new EP, Selfs, is out now in a limited run of CDs and can be purchased/streamed here.
Words by Andrew Watson