With almost no clouds in the sky and daytime temperatures reaching upwards of twenty degrees in London, Wednesday evening’s uplifting performances by The Jezabels and Champs could not have come at a better time. A large sold-out crowd eagerly gathered for entrance to the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire for an elated night of music, and although queues were long and security checks for the most part were relentless, they remained happy and steadfast, determined to celebrate the unofficial first day of spring by enjoying what they loved: music.
Opening the show was Champs, a band consisting of two brothers from the Isle of Wight and a few of their friends. Their sound was diverse, organic and full of life. Vocals and guitars drenched in reverb painted the image of a foggy morning or a sunny lazy summer afternoon. This soundscape was occasionally inhabited with melancholic chords held on an electric organ, suggesting the long day’s transformation to a purple twilight. Throughout the set, brothers Michael and David remained stoic, reflective and peaceful, inviting all the members of the audience to remain ensnared in Champs’ warm and happy glow. Unfortunately, this aura was short-lived – Champs played for only about a half hour. As a group, their sound was incredibly nuanced and it should be exciting to hear where their newfound success and journeys take them.
As Champs emptied the stage, the audience began to grow in anticipation as a very talented soundman began to set up the instruments for The Jezabels. He banged the drums loud, played a few chords on the electric piano, tested reverb out on a shiny Les Paul guitar, and incessantly shouted “Hey! Hey! Hey! Whoa-WOOOOOO!” on the PA system, each time eliciting an ecstatic response from the crowd. It quickly became apparent that the theatre was now packed. There was no room to move on the floor, and hordes of smiling people were standing in the first balcony due to a lack of seats. As the lights dimmed, the crowd condensed and shrieked in unison. At first, all that could be seen was darkness, but then a banner reading “THE JEZABELS” glowed red, floodlights pulsated in sync with rumbling bass, and amidst the shadows walked out the four members, all clad in black to a triumphant symphony of applause.
Starting off their set with the self-titled opener from their newest album The Brink, The Jezabels performance began with a boom. 80’s-style synths rang heavy, diagonal guitar lines echoed nonstop across the stage, drum beats pounded the heart out of the audience, while singer Hayley Mary circumnavigated the stage like a provocative, courageous meerkat dressed in red lipstick and black leather. Keyboardist Heather Shannon with long blonde hair blocking her face and a cool, indifferent demeanor resembled the late Brian Jones. Sideburn-clad drummer Nik Kaloper played with the intensity and precision of a steam engine, whilst guitarist Samuel Lockwood remained stationed to the right of Mary, and through his omnipresent, cyclical guitar lines contrasted with the kinesthetic unpredictability of Mary. Further in the set, during the performance of Long Highway, Mary sang “You rip apart the clouds in all my days”, and adopted the dancing contortion of a snake, as if to extend her into the past searching for a lost love. The rest of the band followed suit, and accompanied her throughout many a story of love and heartbreak.
Throughout the performance, The Jezabels made one thing clear—they are not just a radio band. They are a loud band. They create a wall of sound that echoes back to the pop aesthetic of the 1980’s. Almost always, all the instruments played simultaneously. Lockwood’s guitar almost always accompanied the melodies of Mary. This sonic bombardment ensured that the audience had no choice to retreat, but remained attached and emotionally linked throughout the entire performance. Whenever the drums ceased or reduced in prominence, without missing a beat the crowd would quickly fill in with clapping.
However, the audience exploded into nothing short of ecstatic reverie during the consecutive performances of The End and Dark Storm, ending the band’s first set. Never have gloomy, love songs with uncertain outcomes ever been performed with such life and underlying happiness. Perhaps this is why the crowd gathered on this day—to celebrate love and happiness in the face of simultaneous suffering. Regardless, The Jezabels proved this night they are an exciting new band full of challenging love songs, enjoyed by a dedicated fan base. To the future of both the band and to their fans, it must be said: the sky is the limit.
Time to Dance
Look of Love
Beat to Beat
A Little Piece
Easy to Love