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, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.
It’s a fairly eclectic mix of late musicians. Speaking of Cobain, he and Nirvana would’ve fitted on this bill quite nicely. Whoever’s behind Aberdeen’s Headache music promotions certainly made sure of that. This was set to be Headache’s last gig, and things definitely went out with a bang.
First up were Savage Mansion. They consisted of vocalist/guitarist, bassist/backing vocals, guitarist and drummer. Their opener featured climbing bass, helping the song become a despondent indie anthem. It also featured a tasteful guitar solo, too. The guitar, more generally, chugged, aiding the song in its big sound.
The next one was quite adventurous, with the bass again standing out. It rocked out with a monstrous riff constituting its middle section. A twin guitar melody was like something out of the Thin Lizzy songbook, which was very satisfying.
With the next offering you couldn’t help but notice, once again, the bass, this time ringing with a satisfying clarity. There were some good dynamics, taking the volume right down a notch or two, before launching into a power chord bonanza. Further dynamics were witnessed again, this time in the middle section, chunky and beefy. The song then ended abruptly, flashing chord yet jazzy drums.
The crowd were then told, “This song’s about football”. There was a celebratory energy to this one. The bass started and the guitar finished, like call and response between, say, Plant and Page. The guitar solo, when it came, was chordal and tuneful. Another abrupt end, yet no false premise via jazzy drums, though.
Following that, guitarist and bassist/backing vocals were in unison, for quite a joyful melody. Then there were spates of melancholy, though. A bass break of that very melody came. The bass was then joined by suitably large guitar. This in turn was followed by another, more brief, bass break, before yet another abrupt end.
A no nonsense rocker upped the ante of proceedings. Everyone in the band was in their element, keeping up with each other half the battle, and winning that battle they certainly did. A powerhouse of drumming, that’s for sure. Quite a brief song, at that.
A freight train followed, again the drums something to behold, which were, in turn, joined by manic vocals in tandem. There was chugging bass giving the speeding train some clarity. Shouting vocals a tad shocking, to boot. This, you could suppose, lent the song some power. There was, indeed, as advertised, “amazing music in between and after bands”. The subversive pounding disco of the late Prince’s “Controversy” being a prime example.
Anyway, the main support act were Cavalcades. They consisted of vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer. They opened with intense, ringing chords which made for a massive sound. The underlying melody set them from the heavier side of rock. The vocals kicked in, with despondent, again, the word to use so far that night.
It definitely had a driving feel to it. A refrain figuratively steadied the mental antics at the wheel, settling for some jangly guitar in its place. This was followed by another lighter moment, bass ringing instead of driving. Discordant harmonics gave it a harder edge.
Ringing guitar, in turn, opened the next, a loop played until the drums calmly introduced proceedings. A wall of noise followed. It was a bit distorted, to the point the sound got a tad more muddied than perhaps intended. The bass’s more melodic moments, for example, were almost lost. Jangly guitars abated this issue, at least for a bit.
This segued, it appeared, into another piece of alternative intensity. The vocals just couldn’t cut through the wall of noise. They’re to be commended for being so full on, as it was quite an exciting performance, nonetheless. Turning things down may’ve worked wonders for fan appreciation, though. The atmospheric refrain was definitely testament to this. You could even hear what sounded like a chorus effect on the bass guitar.
The next was akin to one long concept, a progressive piece, but relatively satisfying, considering the aforementioned sound issues in their set. It was driving, intense and with ringing moments that stuck in your head. There was a slightly discordant and harmonic thing going on; heavy, but not blatantly so. It was very moody, and slightly haunting. It came to an emphatic end, with ringing atmospherics blurring the line between end of song and start of next.
Pounding drums introduced the next one. It was quite doomy and seemed to evoke rising from your own destruction. At the same time, however, it also evoked pulling yourself together to see through the day. The levels, though, were as such that the singer would’ve been aswell not even singing, half the time. The drummer, however, made up for this with a hell of a performance.
Moving on, headlining act were Glasgow’s The Sinking Feeling, and were made up of both guitarist and bassist sharing vocal duties, and a drummer. They kicked off pronto, before slowing down and introducing themselves. The song proper, “17”, was distorted and dirty, the grunge influence not immediately obvious but definitely there, somewhere.
The vocals ehoed, creating an atmosphere rather than being there for sake of clarity and the intrigue found in any particular words. Some wayward guitar followed, wailing, and, now, you could hear the grunge influence. The middle section was melodic, before an abrupt end.
The band told the crowd to “be yourself”, and so “Forget” began. Crashing drums heralded this one, and were met with discordant guitar, again the wayward line typical of grunge. They cut out to a halt for a slice of the riff, before the band came back in. Very good dynamics. The rumbling bass really drove this one forward. A clean guitar moment furthered sense of aforementioned dynamics, before band came in, again. The vocals had an ethereal quality, adding to the curious sound.
“If you haven’t seen us before, you’re in for a treat”. The electric strum of “WOAH” was ponderous, before the song proper kicked in with a fair old thud. It was melancholy, mixed with some fast, choppy riffs. There was some chat about the band’s first time in Aberdeen, Californian burgers with avocado, and fish and chips. “Standard” was a despondent rocker. There was a roar from the guitarist’s vocals, adding a bit of shock value. The dreary and bass heavy riff suited the subject matter. Rolling drums, however, built up some intensity.
Lines between the last song and the next one blurred, with ringing bass and calm, jazzy drums. Things became, with “2nd Son”, discordant, like In Utero by the aforementioned Nirvana. Those off, scratches of guitar sliced through you. So much so put into the performance, the guitarist snapped a string with that sheer power. He was handed a replacement guitar from the crowd.
“Boo rich people”, declared the band, as they railed against numerous venues in country, let alone in this area, being at the mercy of sound pollution laws. Following this was the crushing introduction to “Mary”. This was more than just sole guitar. A refrain came to focus on the words, before, again, you were crushed. Ringing bass almost followed the vocal melody. Subsequent screaming added to the power; and, thankfully, used when best, and not all the time.
Closer, “Ugly” was intense; rolling drums and rollicking guitars. This made for a driving, punky yet doomy number. The drums cued the rest of the band, their pocket of isolation making for excellent dynamics. The main riff seemed to get the slowed down treatment, as if you’re in doubt of the aforementioned doomy aspect.
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Words by Andrew Watson