HMLTDEVOL @ Arts Club 13/2/20
A crack of light bursts across the stage revealing a flash of blue lipstick, a shimmer of plastic crocodile-skin trench coat and the radiating glow of a white suit paired with bleached hair (moustache included). In case you were in any doubt, HMLTD are here to put on a show.
The strutting thud of LOADED kicks in and with it HMLTD’s debut album tour bursts into being with the twisted inferno style that brought the band so much hype back in 2017. Back then, the music press was salivating at their feet, proclaiming them rock’s latest saviours and hailing their early singles as glam-punk crowd-crazers.
But then all went quiet. LOADED tells us why: “I sold my soul to the devil tonight/And I’m still pretty fucking poor/But my gun is fucking loaded.” After signing to Sony, in a tale as old as time, HMLTD realised they had lost control. Things went south and it’s only now, two years later, they’ve managed to release their debut, West Of Eden, under indie label, Lucky Number.
Formerly infamous for their theatrical, custom-themed live sets, tonight there are no alien tentacles hanging from the ceiling, or semi-naked wolf ladies whipping up the crowd. Away from their London home, HMLTD are laid bare before a sadly sparse Liverpool audience.
But as the 64-bit arcade sounds of Music! strike, it’s obvious this genre-bending band will deliver, be the crowd 80 or 800. The strong, close-knit band has a big, dramatic and swerving sound. And frontman, Henry Spychalski, seeks constantly to build and intensify his relationship with the audience. It’s climactic.
The band’s older, darker tracks drag us deeper. The soul-stirring Satan, Luella & I has us reaching out and begging along with Henry, “Luella, won’t you marry me now”. And the darkest, densest, most disturbed of all, Death Drive and Where’s Joanna? has the raggedy mosh pit slamming at full tilt.
Peppered throughout, though, are songs like Blank Slate, which is more dreamy 80s electro-pop. Think a little Depeche Mode, a little Pet Shop Boys. Similarly, new track Mikey’s Song reaches for emotive soft-focus synth jangle, and falls a tad short. It’s here, they lose us a little.
From label laments to losing their synth player three days before going on tour, HMLTD have suffered some hard knocks. When you contrast tonight with their first-round heights, the impact is mixed. On the one hand, it’s knocked them off course, leaving them more genre-confused than genre bending. And the set waxes and wanes in confidence as a result. On the other, it’s knocked a grating pretension out of them, leaving a charismatic and vulnerable personality that’s hard to resist.
At their best, HMLTD still have the promise of something great and truly different. The cleverest tracks veer and subvert like set crescendo To The Door. Pivoting from galloping western to writhing synth ecstasy and back, HMLTD take us on a glorious ascent to a captivating frenzy. And it leaves us fervent fans frustrated and gagging for more.