Joanna Gruesome - MANCHESTER, Deaf Institute - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Joanna Gruesome - MANCHESTER, Deaf Institute

by Steve Rhodes Rating:9 Release Date:2012-06-18

Putting jangly guitars and Cardiff together usually defaults to the monstrosity of the seven-headed beast that is Los Campesinos! Fellow City dwellers Joanna Gruesome don't exactly help their defence, being signed to the home of twee indie revivalists Fortuna POP! and with song titles regularly referring to things such as sugar and lemonade, but thankfully they set the bar much higher. Supporting Speedy Ortiz at Manchester's Deaf Institute they are engrossing, energetic and engaging, and arguably one of the most exciting young bands I've seen live in a long time.

So fair play to Speedy Ortiz for inviting Joanna Gruesome to support them on their UK tour, a risk that sadly backfires for them. Sticking to a subdued tempo, with the charming but fairly expressionless Sadie Dupuis at the forefront, they produce rambling songs, full of changing time-signatures, but there is something faux about them, with guitar-lines constructed as edgy, possessing Pavement-like awkwardness, feeling far too safe and contrived, lacking any real drive. Like Paris Hilton trying to be Kim Gordon, it is a problem that dogs much of the set.

With the pace at such a crawl, the newer songs from the Real Hair EP bring little life or repreive from the mundanity and  'Smoke Machine', optimistically re-christened as Freebird Messiah, is just beyond tedious, failing to lift the crowd. The drummer's excruciating on-stage banter between songs doesn't enliven proceedings either. On the rare occasions the pace is finally raised, melodies or anything else interesting are sadly left behind.

Thankfully, there is some respite and some energy (despite the awful lyrics), with 'Taylor Swift' packing a punch, while 'Tiger Tank' finally awakens the audience. It is 'Gary', though, which at last brings much needed quality to the proceedings. Slint-esque and well-played, it still lacks the spontaneous rawness they so badly need, but is a chink of light in a rather flat set.

While Speedy Ortiz put in a professional performance but lack emotional depth, Joanna Gruesome's naïve approach is more natural and charming. Even their tattoos are DIY, perfectly demonstrated on spiky opener 'Secret Surprise', with the bass played out of tune through the song. The band laugh, but they carry on regardless. The presence of singer Alanna McArdle is central to the band; towering over the other members, she regularly shrieks out her vocals, perfectly complementing the thrashy, fuzzed, pummelled backing, but often almost simultaneously retreats to an angelic position with sumptuous ease, with nods to Karen O, Daisy Chainsaw and Angelica, working well in tandem with the vocals of guitarist Owen.

With such energy and restrained aggression, it's a wonder how Joanna Gruesome can hold it all together, with a set teetering on the edge throughout, but with triumphs such as the frenetic 'Graveyard' and the swerving and mind-blowing 'Madison', the band continue at breakneck speed, barely pausing for breath. Like Bearsuit meets You Say Party, they have the audience bopping about and lapping up every moment.

Closing with the deliriously frantic single 'Sugarcrush', Joanna Gruesome have produced an excellent, speedy assortment of scuzzy, hook-laden pop songs, with Owen humorously stating that at 25 minutes, its the longest set they've ever played. It's a deeply entertaining live performance played by a band clearly enjoying themselves, chock full of glorious melodies and an attitude that would beat up The Pains of Being Pure at Heart for their lunch money. Joanna Gruesome are an exciting prospect, grabbing twee by its balls and crushing hard. I'll have what they're having!

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