The Great Escape, Brighton (Day 2)
Thursday May 17 - Saturday May 19 2018
Reporting team: Steve Willcox, Neil Cole, Linn Branson, Ellie Ward, Leah Raymond
Pictures: As credits
It's another glorious day as those without hangovers or not still in their beds sleeping off the previous night/early morning shows, get ready for another day of musical frolics.
Early middayers at the Marine Hotel are Belgium four-piece, Pale Grey, who, rather like their name suggests, provide a serene start to Friday with a chilled out set. Great harmonies and some good old-fashioned danceable tunes.
Boniface (Neil Cole)
The Canadians made quite a stir at The Great Escape in 2017 with blistering shows from the likes of Youngblood, Bad Pop and Royal Tusk. This year they were back with another takeover of Green Door Store, and Friday's showcase got off to a great start thanks to Boniface. The shy awkwardness of singer Micah Visser endeared him to the crowd, helped by the fact that as soon as he stopped the nervous chatter and started singing, confidence flooded through him and the band. The sheer variety of song styles in a 30-minute set was staggering, as he moved through tracks such as the emotional heart-wrencher 'Again & Again' to the soaring synth-driven 'I Will Not Return As A Tourist'.
Cosmic Strip (Leah Raymond)
Cosmic Strip, a hazy psych-pop-edged four-girl-one-guy unit were one of the first acts on the open air stage at Jubilee Square, where wristband exchange and delegate registrations were taking place, so a good spot to catch the newly arrived. With their debut EP out this summer, songs like 'Echo Chamber' gave a welcome clue as to what is ahead.
Lady Bird (Steve Willcox)
On a gorgeous sunny Brighton afternoon it felt a bit wrong to head to German-themed basement nightclub Bau Wow, but plenty of people had the same idea as it was packed to the rafters for Swiss electro-Europop from Crimer. Everything about the set screamed 1980s, from the singer's haircut to the synth-laden tunes that wouldn't sit out of place on a compilation alongside Erasure, Pet Shop Boys or Depeche Mode. Meanwhile, outside on the beachside Dr Martens Stage, Lady Bird bring some infectious punk from Tunbridge Wells. A mixture of Slaves and The Stranglers, they bring the crowd alive as they tear off the proverbial roof off. These guys might just go the extra yard to the big time. Keep watch.
Bakers Eddy (Linn Branson)
Melbourne-via-New Zealand punk rockers Bakers Eddy were a band that the Little Indie team were much looking forward to after last month airing their fantastic beat single ‘Good Decisions’ (out June 1 in UK). The Black Lion wasn't perhaps the best space for their Public Access T.V. style, but their songs are fast and energetic, and frontman Ciarann Babbington commands attention. Needless to say, we loved them and can't wait to get a look at a longer set.
Every year The Great Escape has at least one act that you watch and think "yep, they're going to be massive". This year that accolade goes to singer-songwriter Sam Fender who played Patterns - coincidentally as part of the Fender showcase. His set of radio-friendly, guitar-driven tunes was instantly accessible and you can see why the BBC picked him for their "Sound of 2018" showcase at the beginning of the year.
Vistas (Neil Cole)
Local fuzz-rockers Beach Riot took to the long, narrow confines of The Hub to blast eardrums with wild, frenetic guitar distortion, followed by Edinburgh's Vistas, working hard to get maximum exposure from their trip to Brighton with also a set on the main festival bill. It's hard to pull off the spectacular when you are playing in a shipping container, but they performed admirably and showed off a set of solid indie tracks that made them well worth seeing.
Pip Blom (Ellie Ward)
We saw Pip Blom at The Great Escape last year at Brighthelm; this year she brought her band to Komedia for the Dutch showcase. The last 12 months has seen Pip work up from a virtual unknown to latest infectious single, 'Pussycat'; her slacker-garage rock style, delivered with a pop exuberance, makes for an entertaining set.
Sisteray (Steve Willcox)
At The Marlborough Theatre pub for the Alt Escape, Lucie Barât produces a nice set with lots of attitude. The crowd are loving it and the venue is packed, but over-running times mean the set has to be cut short. With local residents taking issue over noise levels before Lucie's set, when Sisteray followed after having their slot initially cancelled, they finally squeezed in a set with the sound levels turned down to 10: ‘Gentrification’ summing up the mood of the non-music loving neighbours' hell. For their last song they ramped up the levels and destroyed the eardrums. Great stuff.
Our Girl (Leah Raymond)
With their debut album due in August, Soph Nathan, also with The Big Moon, brings her three-piece Our Girl project to the outside stage at the Shipwrights Yard. It's always a wonder when watching powerhouse drummer Lauren Wilson how she manages to look no older than 12, yet can beat the hell out of those drum skins with such ferocity. It's a perfect adjunct to the nimble bass of Josh Tyler and Nathan's own restrained guitar.
Hatchie (Ellie Ward)
Yet another Australian who dominated the festival was Hatchie at The Arch. A week ahead of her debut EP release, Harriette Pilbeam filled the room to capacity, holding those inside captured by a set bathed in blue lighting as she rang out her dreampop-gaze songs.
One of the biggest queues of the weekend was found outside Coalition as the evening session was kicked off by Ten Tonnes. After a successful 2017 with a lot of airplay for singles 'Cracks Between' and 'Lucy', Ethan Barnett and his band have caught the attention of the mainstream. It felt a little like this was a warm-up for his show as part of Steve Lamacq's BBC showcase later that evening, as he flew through a set comprising virtually everything released to date. While there wasn't much warmth or interaction coming from Barnett, the quality was there to see – both in the sublime songwriting and the tightness of the band who were technically perfect.
Zuzu (Leah Raymond)
Tiny Liverpudlian songstress Zuzu looks rather like a baby Dalmatian in her black and white spotted outfit at The Black Lion. Already winning hearts, her range of hooky and melodic alt-rock jams, like latest single, ‘Beauty Queen’, and witty lyrics recall the likes of Haim and Courtney Barnett - except delivered in a Scouse accent.
Declan Welsh and the Decadent West at the Green Door Store brings the crowd to its collective feet. Like Trampolene's Jack Jones, Declan has a flair for poetry and starts of his set with some. Where the former has a penchant for high energy rock, this band have a great talent for a good indie pop song. At The Haunt, former Palma Violets bassist Chilli Jesson makes a return with new band Crewel Intentions, and even draws in Nick Cave for a closer look. Still early days to see where this project may go, but Jesson has never been shy of giving it large.
In the Prince Albert, a highlight of the evening session comes from Stereo Honey, with Pete Restrick’s falsetto voice captivating another of their capacity filled appearances this festival. Opening with 'The Bay' he showed his immense singing range, over a brooding bass guitar – two characteristics sure to appeal to fans of Radiohead or Wild Beasts.
Phoebe Bridgers' set at Komedia shows her ability as a singer in this more stripped down acoustic setting. To a filled room, the American brings to life songs which comprised last year's critically acclaimed debut album, 'Stranger In The Alps'. Opener ‘Smoke Signals’ is haunting, break-up anthem ‘Motion Sickness’ riveting.
The fairly large Sallis Benney Theatre venue plays host to Irish troubadour Dermot Kennedy for his late evening set, where it is obvious from the length of the waiting queues that they have already heard about this man. He brings a powerful set alive with bewitching emotion and feeling that touch the heart.
Giant Party (Mike Massaro)
One of the more unusual sets came from Giant Party in The Prince Albert. They opened with 'White Ink', a storming track with a guitar line that wouldn't be out of place on an (early) Arctic Monkeys album. After that, though, the band seemed to almost dispense with guitar altogether, while the singer roamed the floor among the crowd, seemingly hugging every individual that came to see the show. While there is nothing wrong with spreading the love, and we all love a frontman coming into the crowd, it did feel that after ten minutes this was probably at the expense of the music.
Avalanche Party really know how to let their hair down. Their late evening set at East Street Tap proved their word-on-the-street notoriety for an anarchic, but hugely entertaining live show, was no rumour. From the start vocalist Jordan Bell makes his way through this solid and packed small venue and climbs onto a table then writhes on the floor covered in lager singing ‘I'm So Wet’ that's when the moshers get involved and the whole place starts to move like a snake with beer being thrown, covering most of the crowd. If you want crazy, these boys do it so well.
New York art rockers Bodega take over The Haunt for a second top draw show of the festival. After storming SXSW with their sharp songwriting, the dual vocals of guitarist Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, and with their debut album due in weeks, the five-piece spew out tight grooves and Parquet Courts-esque vim - their album was in fact produced by the Courts' Austin Brown. After a post-midnight session at The Walrus from fiery London quintet Yassassin, and with still one day left to indulge, the Little Indie team at this point retires for the night.