Live at Cargo, London
First off, a mention for Novella, second support act of the night and incumbents of those “ones to watch” lists that, importantly, happen to be right on this one. London-based all-girl three-piece (with added drummer for the night?), they make a great noise - it’s got elements of indie-drone, shoegaze and stoner-rock in its composition, but with a swagger not so readily associated with such influences and there’s something of a Velvet Underground like exoticism too in the ebb and swell of what they do. Perhaps what matters most is that they keep things entertaining for an entire set, which is not always the case with bands of a similar disposition, and they finish strongly – the set closer has plenty of Byrds-ian (or perhaps C86-ian) clang-jangle about it, accompanying the most melodious vocal of anything they play (certainly in the verse anyway), and the best of many extended instrumental outros they give us this evening. Like the rest of the set its genuinely engaging, and is accordingly well received by a well-stocked crowd – so if you are in the business of making “ones to watch” lists then I’d recommend you add them, it seems plenty of people have, and for good reason. Opening with “They say” The Soft Pack make a frenetic start – its abrasive, high-tempo, a no-messing sort of kick-off and it makes sense, a sit-up-and-notice re-launch into a group of relatively “lived-in” songs that’ve been with us since the last autumn (admittedly it’s not that long ago, but it’s a new year and all that). “Second look” likewise is over almost as it’s begun - a ball of energy and vim. Singer Matt Lamkin carries an air of studied Jim Morrison around his pitch at front-centre, with a similar deep slow howl to his delivery at times too – with this, and the pared down arrangements of songs that are all quite densely-layered in their album form, there’s something a little more primitive and raw about tonight’s Soft Pack. There’s some of Strapped's pervasive party-funk feel, but for the most part it’s been muscled out, stripped of the embellishments that kind of characterise the slight difference in direction between the second and first album. It’s not a problem though, things are a bit slabbier, a bit rougher, you can almost feel the grimacing strain as they edge up to (and sometimes fall short of) the higher ranges, but it’s certainly admirable and let’s face it, the polished top of the last album was gonna be a challenge to replicate live. Particularly of good news, is that they remembered to bring the saxophone – Strapped's best track, “Bobby Brown” needs it, and sounds brilliant for it, as does “Tallboy”. “Pull out” from 2010’s debut gets the added woodwind as a welcome surprise, so it’s not all reduced forces stuff although “Answer to yourself” is as straight-up and primordial as you’d expect, much to one particularly energetic fan’s approval. Album closer “Captain Ace” ends the set and ultimately crowns the sense of achievement around these live re-imaginings by being far far better than the version on the long-player. The Soft Pack are a band, or at least have made albums, that on one day can have you hooked and on another can see you wandering off a little – tonight they’ve had everyone with them from beginning to end, getting better and better as the set went, leaving plenty of happy people behind.