Live Music + Gig Reviews

Esben And The Witch @ Buffalo Bar, London

29 March 2014

Esben And The Witch A Saturday night’s entertainment at Highbury’s tiny subterranean Buffalo Bar came from Broken DC and Esben And The Witch. The former, who opened the show, have played with and toured with quite the spectrum of acts – from supporting post-hardcore maniacs Hot Snakes last year, they go on tour with drone wizards True Widow later this. Their intriguing mix of just-heavy-enough riffs and sweeping dynamics makes them practically genreless.

About 15 minutes before Broken DC tore the place up, you could find the drummer and guitarist/singer of Broken DC casually chilling outside in the smoking area. Esben singer Rachael Davies was downstairs hugging people that she was evidently pleased to see in attendance. The gig had that kind of feel – some friends hanging out, some randomers there to enjoy the party.

When Broken DC took to the stage, their furious, sludgey take on rock ‘n’ roll proves to be as invigorating as it is groovy – when they released Broken Back earlier this year, it seemed that they were taking the middle ground between Killing Joke and Baroness with roaring vocals and a ripping sound. The fact that they don’t have a bassist isn’t a real issue – the power and interplay between the two guitars filled any potential gaps in the sound.

Broken Back went down tremendously well with the crowd, especially the punk guy at the front pausing his head-banging to take photos. They played a largely instrumental set, made up of furious textures that evoked both The Melvins and Slint in their desperate kinetic manoeuvres. The rest of their set was exemplary, with no rockstar posturing or unnecessary things like ‘talking’. They simply ripped through their best numbers like the Mastodon-esque Face The Sun and the creepy-as-fuck In My Time Of Living.

One of the most exciting bands on the UK music scene are Esben And The Witch. They’ve been compared to luminaries like Portishead and Siouxsie And The Banshees with their sometimes rich, sometimes austere post-punk gravitas. On the back of 2013 breakout effort Wash The Sins Not Only The Face, the band recorded a split record with Thought Forms. Their blend of aggression and beauty makes their live sound a powerful proposition – especially for a venue as intimate as the Buffalo Bar. When they took to the stage, there was an air of raw expectation. The fans there to see them know about their impending recording sessions with Steve Albini; there’s a good chance shows like this will be paying for.

Their set was a superb how-to in keeping a relatively small, highly inebriated crowd engaged. Rachael Davies’ reserved, even bashful appearance on stage was at a contrast with the haunting performance she gave on vocals – in one bizarre moment, a girl in the middle of the room turned round early into the first track to say “She can sure sing”. Too right. Her vocals sounded incredible.

That wasn’t all. Whether it was due to a new mixing preference, or the venue, but the bass sound was absolutely monstrous – it bounced around the venue, echoing back at the listener time and again. On this showing, one might presume that the new record will be significantly heavier than their previous work.

This was none more apparent than when Marching Song, often the highlight of their set, was completed outdone by new track No Dog, which threatened to cave the ceiling in. It was introduced in about as low-key a fashion as possible, before the thunderous tribal rhythm and pounding bass shook the disbelief from the collective faces of the audience, many of whom were surprised that it was the first time that song had been played live. As far as debuting new material goes, No Dog at the Buffalo was just about as incredible as is possible.

Both bands are inevitably going on to bigger and better things, and they’re not likely to need to be playing gigs this small again, going on this evidence.

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More on Esben And The Witch
Esben And The Witch – Nowhere
Esben and The Witch – Older Terrors
Esben And The Witch – A New Nature
Esben And The Witch / Thought Forms – Split LP
Esben And The Witch @ Buffalo Bar, London