Photography: Tayler Little

Witching Waves

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  • Don Blake
  • Pardon Us
  • Puzzle
Outpost 26/7/19

If spending warm sunny days indoors is an indie aspiration, then watching bands in the back room of Outpost at the highest of high-summer is probably its peak.

Openers PUZZLE have been gigging around Liverpool since 2007, so it’s probably no surprise that their set is packed full of well-constructed treacly riffs that make the temperature just about bearable. There’s an amateur air to them early on – their drummer complains about having had to eat a 15” pizza five minutes before performing, while the lead singer/bassist admits “we haven’t written a set list” – but their indie-pop stylings are full of poise. “Looking at Facebook, you might have thought we’d play a load of 90s covers,” says the bassist, and although there’s a very clear Sleater Kinney influence in her vocals (which have a Corin Tucker power), it’s nicely balanced with the emotional weight of the lead guitarist’s chords and the raw rat-tat of the drums. A set that gets better as it develops is nicely topped off with a couple of stompers to bring it to a close.

PARDON US, meanwhile, are all about stompers. They fit the 90s punk trio image so perfectly, their bassist even has a chessboard-patterned strap. Don’t Look Down is a hefty slice of anthemic pop-punk, replete with an “Oh-oh-oh” refrain. Next song Lap It Up has a similarly trademark chorus style. The set shoots by in a heat haze of chuggy bass and Clash style riffs, with perhaps a little bit more stylish guitar noodling than would be expected.

Witching Waves Image 4

DON BLAKE seem, on the surface, more raw than the pop-punk-indie-garage sound of the earlier acts, particularly with their lead singer’s sleeveless vest and spiky hair. But given the presence of a rhythm guitar and its power chords, there’s actually something of a classic rock underscore to their take on the genre.

For the night’s headliners, though, things aren’t quite as simple. Ostensibly a trio, tonight they play without their bassist and, in a way, it feeds into the stripped-down setting, playing to a small crowd in a bar’s backroom. WITCHING WAVES open with Disintegration, sung with distortion effects by their drummer over a squall of noise from the guitarist. It’s a no-fi start, and quite the change from the pop-punk that’s preceded it. The effect is something like watching a British White Stripes, who grew up listening to Oi! in South London. Melt It Down typifies this – a song inspired, according to the guitarist, by “me and my sister breaking glass outside our primary school.”

The guitarist’s banter is much like his fretwork: it’s disarming, rolling inexorably forward, catching you in its wake. The drummer is sharper though – after the guitarist introduces the next song as Flowers, someone yells out “What’s your favourite flower?” and she quips, “Self-raising”. The song is a post-punk epic (no mean feat without a bassist). Their final song is Twister, a precise rattle through life in London, sounding as if all the capital’s noise – tube trains, cars, people, sirens – has been put in a blender and reproduced in note form – none more so than during its flinty middle eight.

Leaving the gig, town is awash with Friday night revellers, their shiny clothes a contrast to the mostly dark ensembles in Outpost. And despite the depressing contrast between the multitude out on Hardman Street and the gang watching Witching Waves, there’s something equally uplifting about the dedication of the bands and the audience to their beloved art form. And perhaps that’s the secret to guitar music’s survival, in its spikiest, most bewitching form: a raw, cathartic, blazing fire, enough for the few to keep it lit.

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