Dream Wife – The Old Blue Last, London (17th Jan 2017)

The tiny stage in the corner of the upstairs room of The Old Blue Last pub in Shoreditch is covered in spilt drinks by the end of this gig showcasing four up and coming bands. It’s free, so it’s packed with an expectant crowd, mostly hoping to catch up with Dream Wife, who top the bill. They started as an art-school project and are taking big creative strides, leaving behind the “poolside pop with a bite” of early videos such as ‘Believe’ with their latest release ‘FUU’ — it’s not power pop at all, seething with swearing anger and female empowerment.

Before Dream Wife, three support acts keep the night bouncing along with short sets. Each song by new Glasgow-London three-piece Dama Scout sounds like several tracks combined into one edgy, exciting mess. The most obvious comparison is Deerhoof, who also seem to play several different tunes at the same time and who also have a striking Japanese influence/presence. Portishead or Cocteau Twins-style experimentation collides with punk, grunge, shoegaze, psyche and kraut-rock motorik. 

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The bassist plays keyboards and the singer’s guitar style is, to say the least, eclectic and distinctive. Some in the crowd are reminded of Our Girl, the side project formed by The Big Moon guitarist Soph Nathan. ‘All In Too’ and ‘Forget It’s Good’ are available online, giving a sense of the group’s breadth of vision. 

Venture Lows have an unusual lineup of two basses, a singing guitarist, and electronics including a drum machine and taped sounds. Imagine Sleaford Mods trying to be The Vaccines or The View and that’d be a bit like third track ‘Brenda’. Other numbers conjure up OMD meeting Busted, running into Tears For Fears; or Red Hot Chili Peppers mashed with Pendulum. There’s a hint of Asian Dub Foundation. One bassist is demonstrative and processed, while the other is long haired, beanie hatted and rhythmic. The lead singer/guitarist is a handsome fellow with charisma.

Only the slightly off-kilter keyboard playing of Meg Williams redeems Luxury Death, the third act, especially when it evokes the Velvet Underground in their last number. She would do well to move on without Ben Thompson. His weak voice and spiritless guitar fail to carry tunes that seek to strike indie anthem status, but end up like boy band drivel. An attempt to be edgy by singing about drugs falls flat, as does a turgid song that seems to be about listerine mouthwash. Really? Spit it out! And if the drumming is bad, don’t make it so loud. 

After a knowingly arty, power pop start to their still-new career, Dream Wife are now sounding more like Kleenex — the legendary Swiss punk band that were forced by a bog paper maker to change their name and became LiLIPUT, and whose guitarist Marlene Marder sadly died last year. Kleenex’s success has been put down to “art-school, glamour and punk-noise”, the same factors that best sum up Dream Wife live. As if embarrassed by their name — taken from a 1953 film — the group are just as likely nowadays to identify themselves as “Bad Bitches”, closer in sentiment to the spirit of classic punk forerunners, Slits, than to any power pop combo.

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‘FUU’ opens the set. “I’m gonna fuck you up, gonna cut you up, gonna fuck you up,” sings Icelandic Rakel Mjöll. Veering into the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’ rap “I tell you what I want, what I really really want”, the song then pivots into a completely different ending: “I spy with my little eye bad, bad, bad, bad bitches.” There’s screaming and raw energy aplenty. 

‘Fire’ is deviant and discordant pop, as if Talking Heads are trying to play a song by The Fall from the Brix era. A thudding bass from Bella Podpadec brings on the bouncy ‘Take It Back’. Insane guitar by Alice Go is all created without the use of a single pedal. This is back to basics. 

Go’s guitar on ‘Kids’ from the band’s debut ‘EP01’ recalls early Clash. Smiles from Mjöll are genuine and joyful as the backing vocals go “wooh, hoo”. Mjöll says, “Let’s get emotional; do you want to get emotional,” to introduce new tack ‘Luv Without Reason’. It’s tight beyond belief and the crisp guitar is reminiscent of Modern Lovers

In the knowing ‘Lolita’, Go’s guitar attacks as if it’s a distorted radio transmission from deep space. Mjöll stands tall at the front of the stage, lapping up the attention. ’Somebody’ riffs like XTC at their best. Mjöll’s lyrics are cleverly feminist — “I am not my body, I am somebody”. ‘Act My Age’ (a live debut) is artfully artless bubblegum punk. ‘Let’s Make Out’ marries Blur with a vocal turn by guitarist Go and a punk metal sensibility. The double-fast power-punk of ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is a joyful, celebratory mosh-happy climax. And that’s it. As Dream Wife rightly say, the gig “was wild and so sweaty”. Who needs reviewers when the band can sum it up so well?

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