When you think of city music scenes the likes of Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool usually spring to mind. But Sunderland? Not so much. But if ever there was a night to cement the north east as a musical entity it was tonight, in drizzly Kings Cross.
First up are SLUG – essentially the latest in the seemingly never ending line of Field Music side projects. This incarnation, however, sees the Brewis brothers take a back seat, as their former touring and session bassist Ian Black takes over frontman duties. SLUG’S debut single was released last month, but they’re already signed to Memphis Industries – a stamp of approval for their weird, creeping twists and turns.
Black, flanked by what looks like a rabble of snooker players, juts and flails about to the sludgy, crashing guitars, like David Byrne fronting a prototype Muse. There’s heaps of Field Music’s influence to be found here, and the Brewiss look more than happy in their new band, David in particular leaps around, switching instruments (which even include beer bottles at one point).
Hyde and Beast are also cut from the same cloth. That cloth being a late ’60s corduroy which essentially doesn’t care how it looks but is, almost by accident, timelessly stylish. Best known as drummers – Dave Hyde with The Futureheads and Neil Bassett with The Golden Virgins – the band released their second album, Keep Moving, in the summer. All those dumb drummer jokes are best left at the door, because what the duo – tonight backed by a full band including a liberal splashing of brass – have created is a deliciously rootsy take on early ’70s rock and pop. More uplifting than its predecessor, Keep Moving takes its inspiration from T Rex more than anyone; on the whole it’s unabashed, with sunny riffs that create a wave of head bobbing rippling throughout the show.
The band look like they’re having a brilliant time of it all, beaming throughout, entertaining the crowd with relaxed – dare we say it – banter while tuning between songs, paying particular attention to flogging the beer they’ve had made by a local brewery for their tour.
There are some excellent sing alongs; current single Open Your Heart, the late Beatles-ish Blown Away and the brilliant title track of their most recent album which, we’re told, was played on reality TV show Made in Chelsea tonight. “Beast reckons it’s a big deal,” sniggers Hyde. It’s the new album that wins out; translated on to the live stage, its tracks are warm, satisfyingly complex and – as one particularly eloquent audience member put it – they’re “Proper tunes!”.
Tonight felt like one big collaboration; Sunderland’s musical brains coming together to show the southerners how it’s really done – dipping into each other’s sounds – and even band members – and the results show just how powerful collaborations can be.