Gruesome Twosome
Joanna Gruesome live
Joanna Gruesome & Speedy Ortiz

Green Door Store, Brighton - 20th February 2014

When we first heard that Speedy Ortiz and Joanna Gruesome would be playing together this year, it certainly set the pulses racing. We would have ventured down to see either band at the drop of a hat and two for the price of one was a genuine bargain the supermarkets should take note of. Unsurprisingly, the sold out notices were up long before the day, yet another sign of how the alternative live scene in Brighton is positively booming at the moment, and the Green Door Store was starting to get nicely toasty as Joanna Gruesome took to the stage.

When we voted Weird Sister our number eleven album of last year (2013 review), it wasn't because the largely Cardiff-based five-piece had discovered the great lost chord. It was because they had impressed with the sheer exuberance of their music, a whirlwind of joyous noise that fizzed off the turntable and slapped you round the face and danced you round the room until you collapsed crying and exhausted. And it takes no time at all for the ten-legged groove machine to get into gear as the band set off at top speed, four of them bouncing about the stage and drummer Dave bouncing in his seat (looking every bit like a young John Coghlan), completely immersed in the glorious noise they are creating. It's utterly captivating and as they (largely) run through that very fine album, their amalgam of cute punk indie fuzz mayhem sounds like the finest medicine in the world. Cleverly, the sound is kept low enough to make Alanna's vocals audible when she sings as well as when she is screaming; her dual vocals with guitarist Owen throw out memories of the gentler moments of MBV before they are swept aside in furious crashing punk howls. This is magic. Bassist Max plays with his back to the audience until he manages to hoover up the great swathe of snot he has accidentally shot down his face.

It's almost impossible to wipe the smiles off our faces. When you go to see a band playing live, this is exactly what you want to see: musicians totally in tune with what they are doing, living every moment, believing in it and loving it. Joanna Gruesome are the most mesmerising band we have seen for many a year and it only adds to the fun to see how hopeless they are between songs. "We've got some merch and stuff …. I suppose," mumbles Owen before Alanna berates him for his uselessness, "That's the worst you have ever done." And when Owen tries to introduce a new song she interrupts him, "I can't keep my tights up …. nobody wanted to hear that." The awkwardness is complete when second guitarist George changes his instrument halfway through the set leaving a considerable break in proceedings. Cue minutes of the band ruminating on how crap they are in such situations. It's great stuff. And as the set comes to an all-too-soon conclusion, Owen breaks his top E string but carries on through the last number, the band leaping around as if they were just setting off.


Joanna Gruesome live
Joanna Gruesome live
This is the last date of Joanna Gruesome's joint UK tour with Speedy Ortiz and how the Americans have managed to follow them every night and still maintain some dignity is bewildering. To their credit, however, the New Englanders prove very much up to the task and though they can't match their British counterparts for stage boisterousness, they give it a damn good try, guitarist Matt Robidoux and bassist Darl Ferm bopping around with the best of them and drummer Mike Falcone playing the shit out of every song. Sadie Dupuis, though largely tied to her microphone, proves to be no slouch either when the moment arises and some stylish leaps into the air do her no harm at all in the cool frontwoman stakes. In fact cool pretty much describes the singer as the crowded venue is radiating enough heat to melt the polar icecaps and though the Gruesomes were drenched in sweat and her bandmates are on the edge of dehydration, there doesn't appear to be the slightest bead of perspiration on her face. It's little wonder that some of the band's lyrics come across as pretty cold blooded, and they replay some of their best here.

The splendid Major Arcana album is represented by 'Tiger Tank', 'Casper', 'Fun', No Below', 'Plough' and 'Gary'; three tracks are squeezed in from 2012's Sports EP; and three off the new Real Hair EP also make it into the set. There's even room for 'Speedy Ortiz' and 'Ka-Prow!' as the band certainly work for their keep. The audience has changed somewhat during the interval and there are plenty of younger fans singing along to every word and certainly a few more female faces crowding the front of the stage. Thankfully there's not too much chat, though some of the audience want to turn every break into a drawn out conversation, but amazement is expressed that you can buy ready-mixed alcoholic drinks in cans in the UK and also that healthy food is available in petrol stations. "It must be nice to wake up happy every morning," Dupuis offers and it is clear her slanted observations on life are striking a big chord with UK audiences. As her band rock out far harder than we had anticipated, it is good to see the Gruesomes still bouncing along, but this time as punters.

Show over and both bands retire to the merch stands to chat and trade and there's certainly no lack of interest. It has been a superb evening and undoubtedly one of the best gigs we have witnessed for many years. Don't let either of these great bands escape you; if you don't enjoy them live you must already be dead.


Words Adam, Pics Gary


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