Village Underground, London
January 25 2016
Words: Linn Branson
It could probably be said that for this first night of the [PIAS] Nites anniversary shows at London's Village Underground, one act brought out the curious rather than the fans; one induced the feelgood dance vibes; and one, shrouded in subdued lighting, often left the crowd not just blinking, but wondering what half the songs in their set were.
First up was Thomas Cohen. Now Cohen has been making headlines of late more for non-music related matters than his worthiness on a stage, and many might indeed have forgotten that he was once the frontman of the band S.C.U.M. But if anyone came expecting a scummy reenactment of his previous somewhat theatrical flamboyance they were to be disappointed by this new reflective, down-tempo style.
As he opens his first solo gig with 'Honeymoon' - "Holding on to each other /and sing to one another" - a song which he first aired publicly in the latter half of 2013, its six-minutes-plus length is not augmented by the horn section that helps make it such a beautiful piece of recorded work, but still sounds evocative and lush delivered by Cohen and his four musicians.
For the opening numbers - a guitar re-tune prior to the third of set, 'Country Home', sees him invite invite the audience to "talk amongst yourselves!" during the intervening dead air space - there is a detectable hesitancy, until he seems to settle in to being back playing live once more. Announcing 'Bloom Forever' - a song he wrote on the day his second son Phaedra was born in 2013 - cheers and whistles of approval echo forth from the Cohen and Geldof family members in the audience. By the time he finishes on 'Mother Mary' - one of the set highlights - we see a touch of the Cohen of old, with an all-out, kneeling pose as he hammers the guitar to an end.
While for Cohen there were visible gaps to be had between bodies on the floor, 22-year-old Oscar fills these with ease - and more squashed in besides. The infectious indie pop of 'Breaking My Phone' brings up the on-the-spot dancers and head-boppers in huddles at the front and gets underway what proves to be an all too short set. "Some of you may know this one," he says, going into 'Daffodil Days'. We think we may have spotted Mummy Scheller - formerly Bric Brac of early 80s group The Regents, which Daddy Scheller, Martin, was also vocalist with - looking on approvingly at her son, and no doubt had heard it a few times.
Drawing to the end with the catchy hooked little blighter 'Sometimes' - "have a little mosh to it'" - he gets the crowd flinging arms in the air, and if not exactly going full-on mosh, they're certainly having a good time in the glow of the Oscar sunshine.
TOY used this occasion to parade a large amount of new, previously unheard material. Now we know all our favourite songs were newbies once, and with the band having been working on a new album over the last months, it was to be expected that some of this be debuted, and in fairness, they had announced they intended such via their Facebook page.
But still, smacking such a hefty proportion of your set - 80-per-cent - in the ears of your fans without introducing or an if-you-please, may not have gone down too well with some small factions of punters. As they open with new tracks 'Cinema' and 'I'm Still Believing', you could sense the unfamiliarity amongst the crowd, and which was to continue for much of the night. Not that the new works are bad, far from it, just that they appear to herald a change of sonic direction for TOY. While there's no 'Kopter', no 'Motoring' - which they seem to have now left as much behind as well, 'Left Myself Behind' - they do chuck in second album title track 'Join The Dots' and the always welcome 'Heart Skips A Beat' from their eponymous debut of 2012.
Not only did the set feel strange at times, but so too was seeing Max Claps from psych-poppers The Proper Ornaments replacing Alejandra Diez (who left the band last year) on synths. TOY not just sounded like a new band, but looked like one - despite Tom Dougall and co. still displaying as laissez-faire an attitude as always. As they close with two further new songs, 'We Will Disperse' and 'Dream Orchestrator', they have managed to draw in a little more fervour from the now warmed-up crowd.
With their third full-length expected later this year, it remains to be seen, however, whether it will go far enough to satisfy the TOY fanbase who had initially had their hearts melted by the outfit's earlier psych-infused output.