- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
It was a few years ago that I bought the Happy Meals album Apéro on something of a whim. I’d heard that The Cosmic Dead’s synth player Lewis Cook was involved, so picked up a copy after witnessing the Glaswegian’s tear up the Brudenell with their heavy, experimental psychedelic rock.
Returning home it was obvious that Happy Meals were an entirely different prospect, the album buzzing with euphoric, yet laid-back disco and the smooth vocal stylings of Suzanne Rodden. While the continental electro-pop of the LP proved to be something of a surprise, the live experience would completely knock me for six.
We’re down in the basement of the Hyde Park Book Club for tonight’s intimate show. Joule comes first; a Leeds based, DIY two-piece consisting of Jemma Freese and Ellie Olivia. The simplistic set up, a microphone each and some synths for Freese, immediately betrays their love for minimalistic pop. It’s heartening to see that they seem genuinely chuffed to be playing, Olivia happily chatting to the audience throughout.
The music is frequently captivating yet restrained, giving their hypnotic vocal harmonies space to breathe. While the songs are gentle, innocent and somewhat disarming, the lyrics are more concerned with mental health than they are your standard relationship woes. The songs and tonight’s understated performance display the bands intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful approach to the art of pop.
There’s a considerable change of pace for tonight’s next act, the one-man noise-priest known as Girl Sweat. Changing his shirt by the side of the stage, Russell Andrew Gray looks genuinely excited at the amount of theatrical fog he can coax out of the smoke machine.
Clambering on stage he informs us that he’s accidentally brought the wrong cassettes along (apparently they belong to Bob Log) so the show will involve a lot of improvisation. The tapes go in, the beats start up and standing behind a modest pile of electronic kit, Gray proceeds to unleash a torrent of untamed noise.
Interjections of rabid lap steel collide with improvised noise and borrowed beats. The music is wildly chaotic but immensely fun, the emphasis well and truly put on having a good time and not worrying too much about what comes out. Gray’s whoops, hollers and indecipherable vocals ramping things up into a frenzy. It’s fantastically ridiculous but undeniably entertaining.
At one point a girl in the audience joins him on stage to add some more considered vocals to a psychedelic garage-rock foot stomper, a spur of the moment decision that works an absolute treat. He wraps things up by putting the microphone completely in his mouth and howling along to Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’.
While Happy Meals remain a reasonably mellow prospect on record, the live experience is anything but. Cook’s bright, danceable beats seem all the more excitable live while Rodden’s performance is nothing short of magnetic. She starts the set stood behind the table of electronic gadgetry along with Cook but it doesn’t stay that way for long.
The singer struts out into the audience early on and proceeds to dance circles around us, sprawling out on the floor and draping herself over the banister. Energetic doesn’t quite cover it. It’s a performance brimming with musical chemistry and sexual energy. I don’t think I’ve ever described a show in those terms before but there really is no other way.
Rodden throws herself into the performance with more genuine joie de vivre than any number of pop stars. Her performance makes the gig a real 360 degree experience as we watch her spin around the room, thoroughly invested in the music.
The duo may be from Glasgow but there’s something innately seductive about Rodden’s vocals, hypnotic and sung entirely in French. Cook too, although obviously having to stay at the controls, is fully submerged in the sound. It’s not a massive surprise to find out that they’re a couple and have known each other since high school, kindred spirits as they are.
Rodden’s vocals and performance are the perfect response to Cooks music. The music builds-and-builds, warm synth sounds mixing with something that sounds like a more lustful reinterpretation of New Orders ‘Blue Monday’. And as much as I love New Order you really can’t imagine Bernard Sumner dancing through the crowd like this.
The music, in fact the whole performance, builds to a crescendo before leaving us breathless. A hugely enjoyable, dare I say transformative, performance. They really couldn’t have offered any more. A genuinely joyful spectacle to behold, Happy Meals may have just saved my weekend.
Sounds like a cool show. Also good to know Leeds has other clubs besides Brudenell Social Club!