LIVE REVIEW – PRETTIEST EYES + STRANGE CAGES AT THE SHACKLEWELL ARMS, DALSTON

There are two main bonuses that comes with not hogging the bar until the main act comes on 1) getting a great spot in the room and 2) being blown away by a support act that you had not been aware of until they take to the stage. Recently, this has happened with Ditz, the Shakamoto Investigation and Home Counties but tonight it was the turn of Brighton-based Strange Cages who are Charlie McConnochie on guitar and vocals, Ben Buckley on Synth, Ellis Dickson on Drums and Oliver Ross on Bass (an incredibly assured performance given that it was only his second ever gig with the band).

Their first song, ‘Lasers of Joy’ is the band stretching out their musical muscles and it’s a darkly menacing tune, the evil twin of a Happy Mondays track. But a cracking riff at the start of ‘The Cracks’ lights the furnace and suddenly they are shooting flames from their eyes, sparks from their fingertips and Charlie is delivering banshee screams from his cast-iron throat. They have a snip of fur from Echo & The Bunnymen and a hinge or two from The Doors but they mix it all into a psychedelic gumbo that had no trouble winning over the audience. They all played like headliners, wringing every ounce of fire and lightning out of themselves and I was hugely impressed by drummer Ellis whose feverish playing was dazzling (it was hard to tell where he finished and the drums started). With songs like the irresistible gallop of ‘Dance Like an Alpha Male’, vital synth-pulse of ‘Under Burning Skies’ and light and shade wig-out of closing track ‘Hypothalamus Blues’ they had no trouble winning the audience over and deservedly so.

Prettiest Eyes-Shacklewell Arms-12 March 2020 (12)

If Strange Cages were a Starship then Prettiest Eyes are a George Barris hotrod and I’m not sure if it was happenstance but having the drums in line with all the other musicians worked really well (as drummers are usually consigned to the dim recess of the Shacklewell’s onstage alcove); it also made sense as Prettiest Eyes drummer Pachy Garcia is the main singer. From the opening keyboard squeal and sandpaper bass line of ‘La Maldad’ the room jumped and I would say there are very few bands that can dial an audience up from passive to twitching rapture in the verse of the first song. Prettiest Eyes know how to PUT ON A SHOW! They snarled and posed; pulled shapes, grinned and grimaced and the audience reacted in the same way as when you put Mentos into a 2 litre bottle of Coke. Take the song ‘Prance’; on the recorded version from the album Pools there are brief pauses but live these pause are elongated into frozen tableaus that tease the audience who are made to wait 10-12 seconds for the song to burst back into life.

The sheer power of this three-piece is astounding to experience live. Pachy Garcia doesn’t just play the drums; he uses them like a climbing frame (a Jungle Jim for American readers) or crouches down behind them to attack the drum machine. Keyboardist Paco Casanova is not well lit and often leans out over his synths his face looking like Kaonashi from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and he is not a man to be hindered by his fixed position. Marcos Rodríguez on bass is a force of nature; dressed all in black and sporting a classy Preacher’s hat. He lets the music flow through him and whirls his bass around often getting right into the faces of those people closest to the stage. He gurns for the camera, implores the ceiling and is exultant in both playing and posture. The songs are frenetic and have an infectious urgency to them that is all consuming. The band runs pleasure and pain in their sound like a jackhammer drilling into you at the same time it also gives you a hug and rolls you a spliff. Prettiest Eyes power through songs from all three of their albums and include ‘Alright, I’m Ready To Go’, ‘The Eye’ and ‘Sorry’ from Looks, ‘Mire Nena’, ‘Don’t Call’ and ‘Prance’ from Pools and plenty from Volume 3 including ‘Marihuana’ the now eerily resonant ‘Strange Distance’, ‘The Shame’ and the encore ‘It Cost’s to Be Austere’, a storming end to the show which whipped the audience into a meringue of stiff peaks and giddy elation.

With the onset of COVID-19 it took me a while to write this as I felt the weight of it being the last gig I was going to go to see for a while. But what a show to hold on to in my memory and its energising power should keep me filled up on gig-energy long enough for me to charge my batteries again.

And with the virus in mind it’s more important than ever to support bands, some may have day jobs but most will make their money from touring and music sales. So, buy digital, buy vinyl; buy cassettes, t-shirts, stickers, badges, whatever you can and know that a 100 small purchases mean a large amount to the artist. On a personal note, I wanted to state that although I may get into gigs free as a reviewer if you have read any of my album or single reviews then I will have bought it (i.e. I own vinyl versions of the last two Prettiest Eyes albums). I wanted to write for Joyzine to indulge my fondness for hyperbole and to promote the music that I love in the hope that it inspires other people to love it too and hopefully buy it.

Review by Paul F Cook

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