Three bands. All at pivotal moments of their career. Playing together within the cosily intimate Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham. Even without the quality music on offer taken into account, as a purely comparative study tonight will prove to be truly interesting. This is VON COVE’s first gig, which is apparent from the amount of times their singer says as much. Being a shiny new entity the young band seem to have invited the entirety of their college course, as well as assorted parents, to witness this defining moment in their personal history. Their disparate alt rock tunes are nobly played, from a lengthy War On Drugs-sounding opener, via a poor man’s Pavement song I can only assume is called ‘Fun Lovin” (being as those are the chorus’ sole lyrics), before ending with a prototypical distorted cacophony. The singer repeatedly forgets lyrics and the only reason the band get much of a reaction at all is because most people here early enough to see them know the band on a first-name basis. Still, not an all together disastrous start to the career of Von Cove.
While Von Cove are taking their first tentative steps into the wilderness, Exeter’s MUNCIE GIRLS are on the cusp of bursting onto the average rock fan’s radar. Already having been touted as the best British punk band since Gallows, the three piece released their seminal debut album, From Caplan to Belsize, earlier this month, with a future targeted for rooms a lot less intimate than here. Ripping through a biting ‘Respect’ and straight into a rollicking ‘Gone With The Wind’, the band have assembled a clutch of high powered, hook-laden anthems, as equally influenced by the current crop of American indie pop-punk bands (Modern Baseball, Joyce Manor, et all) as turn-of-the-century alt rock (i.e. Lemuria, Superchunk).
Mid-set the band switch to their older material which, after months of touring, sounds incredible; the jagged stuttering chords that kickstart ‘Everyday’ being a particular highlight. Every intricate bass-run, impassioned lyric, heartstopping start-stop dynamic and broken drumstick (during a fiery ‘Learn In School’) signal how committed the band are, and how tight a unit they have become. Ending with the Sylvia Plath-referencing ‘Gas Mark 4’, the crowd enlivened by the band’s sheer vitality unashamedly shout the “Didn’t think it through/Just like everything I ever do” coda together with vocalist Lande Hekt, cool aloofness be damned. In years to come the kids that left after Von Cove will be kicking themselves.
As the band play a lone song from debut Contact! Contact! (‘New York New York New York’) it is safe to say that TELLISON have moved on from their “disco-toned emo” of 2009 (Timeout Magazine‘s words, not mine). Compared to Von Cove’s cherry-popping anti-climatic spurt and Muncie Girls’ intense, refined fucking, Tellison performance is , to continue this awkward metaphor, like long-term relationship sex: unassuming, familiar, but no less pleasurable, and with the added bonus of being comfortable enough to sneak a joke or two into proceedings without losing momentum. The band themselves are way better at metaphors than I; the heart-breaking, Keanu Reeves-quoting ballad ‘Letter to the Team – After Another Imperfect Season’ showing exactly that. 8 years from their debut, and they are still playing venues fit for bands that are just starting out, the song drawing parallels be tween themselves and an unsuccessful sports team in need of a pep talk.
The title of last year’s Hope Fading Nightly shows their self-deprecating defeat at their current phase, and while a quality album with solid critical acclaim, singer Stephen H Davidson comments knowingly that a good percentage of the audience are here for Muncie Girls. That is not to take away from quality of the headliner’s set, a deft mix of their latest release and 2011’s stellar The Wages of Fear, the band sounding like an incurably English Joan of Arc. Their rockers pack a punch (opener ‘Helix & Ferman’, the aforementioned ‘New York New York New York’, ‘Tact is Dead’) and despite their tongue-in-check protests, they are obviously having the time of their lives. The high point of the set though is an impossibly lovely reading of dentistry-themed love song ‘Freud Links The Teeth And The Heart’.
Throughout the set someone at the back continually hollers gibberish word combinations at the stage. Some think he is trolling, but those in-the-know know differently: the guy, in his words, “fuckin’ loves Tellison.” The obscure heckling is a reference to a gig the band played in Cardiff where their setlist comprised of anagrams, his shouts of “Boner Local” instead of being an insult is a song-request, one that finally is conceded to in the form of quietly breathtaking closer, ‘Collarbone’. Though they may no longer be The Band Most Likely To, Tellison simply do not care and that attitude makes their set especially captivating. Von Cove, this is how to make an impression.