The Bonnevilles // Matty James Cassidy // King Creeper // Live Review // Voodoo // Belfast
As the cliché goes, it was a miserably cold, rainy Thursday night in Belfast when The Bonnevilles came to town to play Voodoo, with support from Lisburn’s King Creeper and Manchester-based Matty James Cassidy who nipped across the water to play the show. As the cliché also goes, the dreadful weather didn’t stop people from coming out in droves, and it ended up being a sell-out show. However, the cold did have an effect on the crowd, who seemed to take a long time to defrost despite the slightly late start to proceedings, much to the dismay of King Creeper frontman David McCrum, who more than once reminded people that they were at a real-life, no restrictions gig and were actually allowed to let their hair down.
This dismay is completely understandable when you take in the fact that King Creeper had only played a handful of gigs and was building on a momentum that should have led to the recording and release of their debut record, only for all of it to be stripped away from them when covid and lockdowns arrived, putting everything on hold for almost two years. In spite of this, the band were completely undeterred.
Perhaps best described as The Velvet Underground on uppers, or the dancey Stooges, they combine distorted low-fi guitars with bouncy drumbeats and catchy melodies to superb effect. When it comes to wearing your influences on your sleeves, you can’t get any more literal than the Lou Reed and Blink-182 tattoos visible on both guitarists’ arms.
A particular highlight of their set was ‘Deathly Heart So Cold’, which kicked off with a head-nodding, toe-tapping drum and bass passage before the guitars and vocals joined the fray. The latter two’s surging dynamics combined with the former two’s bouncing roll made the song reminiscent of a three-quarter speed ‘Lonely Boy’ by The Black Keys.
The more songs King Creeper played, the more bodies filled the dancefloor. The aptly titled ‘Sex and Violence’, incidentally two surefire ways to warm people up, was the turning point of their set, after which the crowd seemed completely on board and getting into the swing of things.
The band’s last song, ‘Little Lover Boy’, was introduced with a joke that culminated in Quentin Tarantino being called a cunt. The song, which would indeed have been right at home on one of his soundtracks, was a nice marriage between surf rock and desert rock, the aural equivalent of surfing down a sand dune.
King Creeper are definitely a band to keep an eye out for. With their debut record in the works, it isn’t too far a stretch to say, and hope, that they’ll be popping up playing shows a lot more as things go forward.
Next up was Matty James Cassidy. Even before the first note was played or the first word was sung, it was obvious that this is a man who was born to be a frontman. Garbed in a meticulous ensemble of blacks and greys that provided a sharp contrast to his cherry-red bass, and with his cheeks playing host to a pair of massive, razor-sharp sideburns, he looked every bit the part. When the band launched into their first song, it was clear that playing music and performing comes as naturally as breathing to him.
In what was the only noticeable technical mishap of the entire night, the microphone levels were buried under the rest of the music and so, when Matty began singing, no one could hear him. This is the sort of thing that could shake some performers and perhaps make them falter or stop the song until it gets sorted, but Matty took it in his stride without batting an eyelid or skipping a beat. Putting his trust in the sound engineer, he didn’t quaver a single note, and in no time his resonant, grit edged voice was filling the room.
One particular lyric from ‘Said and Done’ summarises the Matty James Cassidy set and post-lockdown gigs in general: “It’s been way too long since I promised you this song.” Indeed, it was his first electric show in two years, and the first since the release of his current moniker’s debut album, Old Souls.
A nice blend of blues, country, folk, punk, and jukebox rockabilly all underpinned by a pulsing vein of old-school rock’n’roll, the band played through the album’s songs, keeping things interesting by interweaving the different styles.
Their vigorous, bass-driven songs ‘After All’ and ‘Contradiction in Terms’ were excellent, both with singalong-style choruses, the latter’s reminiscent of a more energetic, somehow even more catchy ‘Addicted to Love’. The addition of a harmonica solo staving into a wah-drenched guitar solo suggests that all in all, ‘Contradiction in Terms’ is a better track than Robert Palmer’s number 1 hit.
Providing some pensive breathing room, songs like ‘The Art of Falling Down’ and ‘Rosary’ were both well-received. Unsurprising, considering Matty whipped out the harmonica for both. There was something special about seeing him forgo his bass to focus on vocals and the harmonica for ‘Down on My Luck’. Others seemed to agree, as it elicited many a smile and cheer amongst the crowd. Whether intentional or not, the song has an unmistakable Johnny Cash vibe to it, particularly with its refrain of ‘And I can’t help but wonder…’. Considering how steeped in music Matty seems to be, it’s likely it was an intentional nod.
The title track, ‘Old Souls’, was great. It seemed to be a blend of reggae verses with a power ballad chorus – yep – and it worked so well. While there was naturally more life to it live than on the record, it’s there nonetheless to be bought and heard. It won’t disappoint.
It can only be assumed that the gig lived up to Matty James Cassidy’s long-gestating expectations. It was a fantastic performance from all three players, and the looks of pride and admiration that guitarist Phil Cassidy, who also plays in United Bottles and just happens to be Matty’s brother, gave his way throughout the set, suggests that it did.
The White Stripes. The Black Keys. The Pet Shop Boys. Simon and Garfunkel. Daft Punk. Outkast. Suicide. Death From Above 1979. The Bonnevilles are up there with the best two-piece groups in the world. Without a doubt. Incredibly fucking surprising when you realise half the band hails from Lurgan, the other half from Banbridge. If you’re in disbelief, all you have to do is find out when their next gig is and go see for yourself.
Speaking of two pieces; in the list of reasons to make a crowd wait before the start of a performance, going upstairs to get changed into your signature shirt and tie and to grab a bottle of Buckfast has to be nestled somewhere up at the top. As the duo went and did this, the sell-out crowd pressed forward, filling the dancefloor and the rest of the room until there was barely space to move. The fact that the drumkit had been pulled from its normal centre-back resting place to right up the front of the stage may have had something to do with this, as not only did it signal that the set everyone was there to see was about to start, it’s generally one of those unusual things that people aren’t used to. The kind of thing that suggests what’s about to happen next is not to be missed. And indeed, both condolences and sympathy should be extended in the direction of anyone who wasn’t able to attend the show and witness such an electrifying performance.
Playing what they call garage punk blues, The Bonnevilles have an incredible sound, one with a variety of influences, perhaps the most notable being the one that kickstarted the band’s existence: A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, the 1996 collaboration between Delta Blues veteran R.L. Burnside and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, of ‘Bellbottoms’ fame, which recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity following Edgar Wright’s inclusion of it in the Baby Driver soundtrack. Bonnevilles singer and guitarist Andy McGibbon Jr previously stated that hearing that one collaborative album turned his take on blues on its head, inspiring him to recruit drummer Chris McMullan and form the band. With four albums and over a decade of touring experience under their belts, they have honed their sound and performance within inches of perfection.
From the get-go of the first song, the crowd got to it. Heads were nodding, feet were stomping, hips were swaying, bodies were shaking. Later in the set, a moshpit opened up and remained in one form or another for the rest of the show. In fairness, it’s not like people had much of a choice. The playing was that good and the sheer energy of the performance was that commanding. There probably wasn’t a single second during their set when either man was still. Chris’s hands were a frenetic flurry attacking the kit, his own head bobbing to and fro as he played. When he wasn’t obligated to stand by the microphone and sing, Andy was all over the stage, playing this way and that, interacting with the crowd and Chris, frequently walking up to the drummer so they could play side by side. Even when he was tethered to the microphone, Andy kept himself a-moving, bending and twisting and throwing his head back, all the while playing and singing, making the entire thing look as easy as opening a fridge to grab a beer. It’s no wonder he had brought a towel on stage with him. It was certainly needed.
The synergy between the two was unbelievable. You’d have thought they shared the same subconscious. They were locked in together tighter than whatever your preferred analogy might be. And their control of dynamics was masterful, to say the least. Especially Chris’s ability to be in the middle of a crazily hard-hitting drum pattern and then tap a cymbal or skin with utterly restrained softness, before continuing the pattern or else slowing things down entirely. It’s the kind of expressionism afforded and indeed required by being a full half of the band. His years of drumming for metal outfit Cursed Sun surely help, too.
The Bonnevilles played a rip-roaring set, consisting of tracks from all four of their albums; from fan favourites ‘Good Suits & Fightin Boots’ and ‘No Law in Lurgan’ (…you don’t say) through to ‘Long Runs the Fox’ and the title track of their most recent effort Dirty Photographs. Every song was incredible, and the cover of ‘Money’ was a nice surprise, as was Andy getting his daughter on stage to sing alongside him. Together, they shook the room, both collectively and individually. It was an incredible night. A reminder of what gigs are all about. And if you haven’t seen The Bonnevilles live, you’re seriously missing out.