Dutch Uncles - LONDON, Scala - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Dutch Uncles - LONDON, Scala

by Priscilla Eyles Rating:9 Release Date:

Dutch Uncles are ably supported by Sky Larkin tonight at the Scala (a quite cold but nicely sized, easy-to-get-to-the-front venue), who seem a bit unlikely a support group but provids an unfussy and committed dose of energetic rock 'n' roll, reminding me of early Manics or The Joy Formidable. And it's still good to see women playing some good lead electric guitar. It's testament to how far Dutch Uncles have come that they once supported Sky Larkin.

Now for the Dutch Uncles themselves, there's one thing right from the start which distinguishes a Ducth Uncles gig and that is dancing. Namely lead singer Duncan Wallis' dancing, which is of an extraordinarily entrancing quality, as if Wallis is suddenly possessed or as if his life depended on it. His jerky, skilfully fast moves and slidey-Micheal Jackson-like feet (aided by some nice brogues) in time to the complicated, sudden-change rhythms of the music are at first amusing and then utterly cool and attractive, to me at least, for the sheer unselfconsciousness and enthusiasm of it (and he tells us that he often feels sick as he uses so much energy). His mannerisms remind me of a cool cross between Edwyn Collins, Morissey (he quite often emits Morrissey-like yelps) and David Byrne, and I wish more frontmen could be as unfettered and uncontrived as Wallis. This is in contrast to his more charmingly self-conscious stage patter, at one point berating himself in his soft Mancunian accent for getting too serious when telling us it will "be back to reality" after this.

And what of the actual music you ask? Well, their music is definitely the kind which needs to be seen live. It gains more warmth than on record. You can't help but be drawn into such funky grooves, awesome basslines, clever time-changes, modernistic guitar stabs (the Steve Reich influence), xylophone/marimba-based melodies, and Wallis' plaintive and yearning, Alexis Taylor-like high vocals (although if there's one criticism, maybe this register gets a tad samey after a while), especially when you see the band having so much fun with all the musical challenges. Guitarist Peter Broadhead punches the air often at the end of songs as if to say,"Yes, we got through it" (and I do love his boyish, nodding away, smiley face). Even when a few of the songs aren't as compelling, the band's energy and enthusiasm carries you along with it anyway.

Favourite moments abound, but in particular the marimba/xylophone battle between Duncan and Peter on 'Threads' was awesome in its musical precision and interplay. It also reminded me how wonderful those instruments are and how they need to be used more often in indie/pop music. In fact, the gig is a master-class in musical interplay, with the varied interlocking/weaving parts fitting together like jigsaw pieces.

You really see the craft and development of their music, from the fun, fairly straightforward, Futureheads-like 'Face In' (off their debut) to songs such as 'The Ink' with its intricate call-and-response, arpeggio riffs. While songs like opener 'Zug Zwang', 'Brio', single 'Fester' (from their latest excellent album Out of the Wild) and 'Cadenza' (the self-titled single off the second album) have a renewed urgency and potency live, they really show their mastery by making you dance while also letting you appreciate the many layers, a la Talking Heads, XTC, or contemporaries Field Music and Everything Everything.

They finish on their now quite famous, funkified, sped-up version of Grace Jones' 'Slave to the Rhythm', a cover they really make their own, ending on a very 80s-style, energetic keyboard-piano solo from Duncan which reminds me of Madonna's 'Into the Groove', ending it by comically grimacing as he fails to make quite the clean ending. And then it's indeed "back to reality" (but not before an over-enthusiastic fan awkwardly forces Duncan to wait and pose for a picture on her camera phone with her - hell, I'm a bit in love with him too by the end) but oh, what fun was had!

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