On a late April evening, London is experiencing the hottest day of the year so far… and it’s about to be further scorched by the arrival of Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver. Given the unseasonably warm weather, the Scala holds a bearable temperature, but also a palpable sense of excited anticipation.
That bubbling enthusiasm extends not just to the headlining band, but a stellar lineup orchestrated by independent label Damnably, gathering together three of its finest to treat the London crowd. Ohio’s Leggy made a prompt arrival essential. The three piece put out an excellent collection that gathered their EPs together via Damnably last year, and that record’s self-described lush punk is charged with the urgency and warmth of their performance on the evening.
Veronique Allaer’s syrupy vocal offers a toothsome counterpoint to heaviness of Christopher Campbell’s drumming, the wiliness of Kerstin Bladh’s bass lines, and her own arching guitar riffs. Their dreamily dissonant garage punk is elevated beyond the genre’s often overused attributes by their scrappy, oddball sense for melody and a sharp witted lyricism that upsets common romantic tropes and gender assumptions. They pass the baton to Say Sue Me having effortlessly warmed up the crowd, and a sense that this is only the beginning for Leggy.
That crowd is unsurprisingly full of pep for the Korean surf-gaze quartet who’ve had an exceptional year so far. The release of their second record has plucked them from relative obscurity to slots at SXSW and a surfeit of buzz across the media. If anyone was questioning the validity of this recognition must have surely been put in their place post-Scala.
While the group wear their influences firmly on their sleeve – perhaps most notably Yo La Tengo – they manage a delightful alchemy that creates a brew entirely their own. Their music might feel wistful and leisurely but the roots of their vibe lay in focus and dexterity. Sumi’s vocal is delicate yet gripping, Byungkyu’s glistening guitar playing is hypnotic, and Changwon can whip up a frenzy on a moments notice.
With just two long players under their belts Say Sue Me have a glut of gems to mine for their set. From the tilted charm of What I Have to Do to the hungover regret of Sorry That I’m Drunk, the sheer quality of their music rings out loud and clear. Other highlights include a lively rendition of recent single Old Town, a preview of their Record Store Day release in the form of a Jesus and Mary Chain-esque cover of Blondie’s Dreaming, and a barnstorming version of forthcoming single Just Joking Around. Say Sue Me proved they are worth every inch of praise recently heaped on them.
Then, as if the evening couldn’t get any better, the inimitable Otoboke Beaver storm the stage and prove themselves to be one of, if not the, most thrilling live acts around. It’s impossible to overstate the incendiary energy they bring to the room; even more astonishing in light of the fact this is the last gig of a tour that has seen the Kyoto four piece travel 24,000 miles in the sole week they took off from their day jobs.
Even so, the band attack their set at a breathless pace delivering fierce punk with flashes of riot grrrl attitude and math rock agility like invincible bosses. As well as creating a deliciously unholy racket the band are visually striking, throwing every classic rock pose going like they invented it and Angus Young never existed. And as guitarist Yoyoyoshie stage-dives it feels like the first time anyone did something so intoxicatingly reckless at a gig. The breakneck pace is punctuated by screams of “WE ARE OTOBOKE BEAVER!” And you better believe it. The only question that remains is, can you keep up?
Look around at any point during the evening and the crowd is awash with wide-eyed wonder and ear-to-ear grins. Props must also go to Damnably, for a triple-bill so brilliantly varied and unspeakably good; the Scala witnessed a blazing show that will surely go down as one of the best of the year.