Three and a half years ago or so I got sent an EP from a Brighton based band. “Them Days”, I chirruped was “a statement of intent”. Now, for the first time I am here, watching the band live and I am also here to tell you that everything I thought about Sick joy was true. There’s “Dissolve Me” with it’s obvious Nirvana-like buzz, there’s the astonishingly good “Vibesucker” and there’s the harmonies of “Don’t Feel Like Dying”, but its more besides. It’s in the desire to keep pushing forward, which new single “Painkiller” underlines, with its more expansive sound. The three piece are content to let their music speak for them during in the course of their half an hour with Birmingham, and the quiet magnetism suits singer and guitarist Mykl Burton.
As they end with the raw and yet catchy “Talking To The Drugs”, a couple of things are clear. Firstly, Sick Joy are a special talent, one who already has something of a fanbase if the chants of their name are anything to go by, but most importantly (certainly you imagine for the trio themselves) is that whatever they do, they’re going to do on their own terms.
You certainly can’t say this bill isn’t wide-ranging. You’d struggle to find a frontman at the more polar opposite to Mykl Burton than The LaFontaines Kerr Okan. He’s a dervish, a constantly moving. energetic presence and – rather like the bands sound – it shouldn’t be this good.
Many bands mix hip-hop and rock. Few add the soulful vocals from drummer Jamie Keenan to the mix. The LaFontaines do. “Alpha” and “Up” are superb, but it’s Under The Storm” and “King” that convince. Okan is off in the latter, racing about, shaking hands with everyone he sees (MV included) but he’s got a roguish charm too. “I normally make you get down in that one,” he smiles, “but you all looked at me like ‘don’t be silly Scotsman we ain’t doing that so I didn’t bother”.
No strangers to touring with Deaf Havana (“I think we’re the only Scotsmen they know, so they keep calling” reasons Okan) they can knock these half hour sets out with ease (after all Gerry Cinnamon once opened for them) and “Asleep” and “All In” both whet the appetite for the promised new record later this year. They’ve been away for a while, but The LaFontaines are back, and on this evidence, they’re ready to attack.
There’s a good reason, I suppose, for the two supports being so varied. It might have something to do with the headline act. Deaf Havana have been many things in their getting on for two decade career – indeed, they are many things tonight in the course of the 85 minutes they play – but somehow, through it all, it makes sense.
They begin here with “Boston Square” – back then it was their Gaslight Anthem moment, if you will and a Zane Lowe Hottest Song on Radio one. Here, a decade later, it’s an old favourite and still a brilliant track.
It goes without saying, that they are a different band now. Literally – the only two permanent members these days are the Veck-Gilodi brothers – but figuratively too, and their sound is markedly different in 2023, as last years “The Present Is a Foreign Land” proves.
They play much of that here too, with the likes of “On The Wire” fitting in superbly with mid-period stuff like “Pensacola 2013” and “Worship”. It is, though, the most recent records title track and the one that comes next that underline the extremes of what they do. Matthew Veck-Gilodi takes lead vocals on the former and “Someone/Somewhere” adds a real dance flavour.
There’s a desire to experiment with the older stuff too, and there’s an alternate version of “Holy” in the middle of the set that sees the two brothers together onstage for something a little more stripped down.
The only other song they play from “….Souls” (and its noticeable that none of the early stuff is played on this run) “Caro Padre” is a genuine highlight and there’s real emotion in the “I am my father’s son” hook. The reason for the lack of their formative tunes is perhaps tied up in “19dreams”. “Are we chasing the same dreams I had when I was 19” sings James Veck-Gilodi and the reality is they aren’t. We are witnessing a band mature right in front of us.
They are able to carry the audience with them, though and there’s plenty of textures to the end, with “Fever” and the darker, more shadowy “Remember Me” offering plenty of twists.
As does the encore. James, ditching the guitar for “Sinner” and prowling the stage, before the more punk rock vibe of “Kids” offers a tumultuous conclusion.
It’s been four years since Deaf Havana were in the second city, and much has altered – not least the building work in the second city that Matthew is concerned about – but one thing hasn’t: Deaf Havana, whatever their struggles and their sonic changes, still make glorious music and deliver it with passion.
The more things change, and all that.