Experimental Bristol trio My Octopus Mind get us up and running with a set of carefully-curated tracks full of forks in the road. Unpredictable in both sound and appearance, fuzzy double bass and an even fuzzier foot-thick jumper on guitarist and singer Liam O’Connell lend these guys an aura of true DIY spirit that’s reflected in the structure of their songs, the brilliant Buy My Book pulling onlookers into a spiraling world of driving rhythms and floating, spacey guitars that give way to a real crunch in the tail. It’s a strong start to proceedings.
As the crowd re-enter the room, fresh from restocking the blood with a dose of nicotine, they’re greeted by The St. Pierre Snake Invasion standing silently on the stage. “Isn’t this awkward for you?” someone asks. “We’re channeling John Cage” comes the response, before a tidal wave of distortion crushes the silence. If you like your music flat out with plenty of spikes, raucous and wild and peppered with dad puns, then this is the one for you. “We’re going to call our new album King Dim Sum”, Damien Sayell informs us, “it’s basically King Crimson but with more references to Asian cuisine”. The relentless Casanovacaine whips the crowd into a frenzy before Rock ‘n’ roll Workshops seals the deal, Sayell’s contorted dancing encouraging those watching on to stretch their own limbs and get their hearts pumping. Warm-up complete.
Whatever it is they’ve put into the Demer River that flows through Hasselt in North-Eastern Belgium, they should bottle it and sell it. As Flemish five-piece The Guru Guru take the stage, Patti Page’s 1953 rendition of How Much Is That Doggie In The Window gently sways a crowd of heavily tattooed adult humans that delightedly join in with each and every ‘arf arf’. A kick of drums and a discordant wail of guitars gradually overwhelms the serenity, before frontman Tom Adriaenssens appears and begins frantically pacing the stage, searching for something. To imagine him, think staccato borderline rock singer in the guise of that weird neighbour who’s always in his pyjamas, you know, the one you caught going through your mail last week. “Where’s my rum?!” he exclaims, “Isn’t it anywhere?!”.
The tone is set. The Guru Guru launch with fervour into the bass-driven stomper of a tune that is Chramer, and the crowd springs to life. Hair and arms flail, and any illusions about an evening of singalongs to old musicals that honour beloved animal companions are well and truly shattered. In equal parts dynamic and frantic, the Belgian quintet take us through a set of wonky masterpieces that marry tumbling riffs to pulsating rhythms and neat fretwork. By the time we hit (in) snakes & ladders (stakes don’t matter) Adriaenssens’ unhinged grin can be seen reflected across every face in the room.
This isn’t to say the band can’t do the softer parts just as well. As a ukulele-led acoustic performance of And I’m Singing Aren’t I brings the room back down to an air of quiet contemplation, you get a sense of a band and their audience being fully engaged with one another. Dedicated to a late friend of the band, the song draws warm applause from its recipients and provides a reset in energy levels which follow an upward trajectory from here on out. Origamiwise brings the volume back up before Poverbrigade gets every non-standing foot stamping along to each and every punch of the bass.
The Guru Guru show no hint of letting up as they close their set, and they’re rewarded with a room that moves until the last beat. Those pyjamas are a darker shade of red now than they were an hour ago, and there’s not a dry brow in the building. Live session videos and jams on Zoom are one thing, but seeing The Guru Guru live serves as a shining example of just what we’ve missed over much of these past two years – it’s not something you can replicate through headphones. If you get the chance, go and see this band, and take your slippers.