Live Music + Gig Reviews

CoStar @ 12 Bar Club, London

1 November 2004

You’d be forgiven for having never heard of the 12 Bar Club, the West End venue chosen by London-based CoStar to launch their debut album. This minute caf-bar is tucked away in a street behind Centrepoint’s oppressive tower block and just seconds from Charing Cross Road, yet feels a million miles away. Hard to find then, and even harder to enter: a burlesque ‘box office’ chap guarding the door and tickets with the tenacity of a particularly efficient watchdog.

Once inside, however, a warm welcome is afforded by CoStar’s frontman, the deliciously monikered Brighton Gay, seemingly excited and anxious about the set ahead. A support act is already underway in the unbelievably small music room, where just 14 – count ’em! – chairs fill the floor. The stage is set higher, with an odd lower ceiling over the audience obscuring the view. It’s what a promoter might euphemistically suggest a venue full of “character”.

But at least the sound’s good, I venture to my friend. “Because it’s so small,” she – a trained sound engineer – splutters. “It’s like in the shower; everyone sounds good in the shower. That’s why Pop Idol‘s full of people thinking they can sing.”

Still, when CoStar start their set it’s easy to see why they’ve been compared to fellow Norwegians Kings Of Convenience and Röykksop. They play pretty ditties about love and longing tinged with a fragile melancholy, combining Americana with electronica. Yet there’s also hints of the band’s ‘darker’ influences – a touch of Nirvana here and a dash of Depeche Mode there.

Tonight they’re playing songs from the band’s debut album Keep It Light, a combination of tracks from their 2003 EP Brothers In Crime and six new tunes. Falling At My Feet is a radio-friendly track that’s been playlisted on Xfm and is resplendent with catchy pop riffs and an unyielding guitar hook while there’s a more emotional slant to Peaking.

CoStar have in Gay an affable frontman, an earnest and honest singer, while guitarist Johnny ‘Oksen’ Bull paints a bleakly musical landscape ably assisted by Dusty Domino on bass and drummer Reno Nevada. They keep it simple, with many of the songs based loosely around the pop-perfect standard 12 bar blues.

They’re all admirably giving it all they’ve got, belting out their sound to a tightly-packed audience, all the while perching precariously on short, short barstools so we can see them top to toe below that ceiling line. Gay’s voice is endearingly gruff and warm, and the sound is impressively tight but they’re let down by loose lyrics.

In between songs such as Yeah Right, Lee and the impressive 4 Days Gay shouts out to the crowd. “Thanks a million,” he calls continuously, evidently enjoying this moment; the earlier nerves banished.

There’s plenty to enjoy in the band’s performance but ultimately they lack the freshness some of their contemporaries enjoy. They’re clearly headed for bigger things (and venues), but just how big remains to be seen. As yet there’s No Star in CoStar.

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CoStar @ 12 Bar Club, London