China Drum: Stamford – live review
Voodoo Lounge, Stamford
5th December 2013
China Drum are on tour after several ‘gap’ years and Neal Wright goes to listen.
The bohemian vibe of Mama Liz’s in Stamford, South Lincolnshire ticks a myriad of boxes. An eclectic fidelity to deepest Louisiana appears throughout the venue. Blues related items and apposite musical references adorn the walls. This venue welcomes regulars and gig goers alike. It’s a spacious pub with a restaurant area, a sizable patio and has ample food and ale on sale.
Live music is housed below ground level in the über sweatbox that is the Voodoo Lounge. The tunnel arches flank the stage and compliment the acoustics. This evening the sound was generally crystal clear. The Lounge’s resonance has been meticulously considered. This is one of the best small venues (200 capacity crowd) for clean noise. The expectant crowd await a four band bill, headed by China Drum, a band with a segmented lifespan for want of better explanation. Though in 2013 there has been a reformation after a hiatus of several years.
First up, Peterborough’s own Psych-O-Bombs. Strictly 60’s Max R’n’B interspersed with Subway Sect punk presence. Swirling Korg keyboards, dexterous bass lines and staccato guitar solidly punctuate the neat material that’s as tight as their suits. Its small wonder that the 40 minute set hurried by. I make no apologies for any band that uniquely impersonate obscure A grade 60’s secrets like the Northern Soul/Garage fusion of Human Beinz’s classic Nobody But me. A couple of relative obscurities (everything’s relative) nestle perfectly between their own take of I’m Crying and Jezebel too. In fact they wear their references very well. Check them and indulge yourselves.
Next band are Ignition – clearly they feel they have a point to prove. Steadfast and tight considering it’s their first gig together. A favourable version of Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up from these rock defenders. They announce early on that “Unlike other cover bands, we play what the fuck we like”. Hmmm, well ok, but with a bold statement like that then, why subsequently choose a set of obvious Bad Religion and similar tunes and persistently ask for acceptance/recognition from the audience then? Oodles of rock posturing to accompany their ability.
The mid/late 90’s saw a plethora/skip full of TV-polished cute boy next door bands that dominated 30 second slots between over excited presenters speedily delivering trash facts on MTV formatted teenage magazine programs. Record label financed videos of the day predictably choreographed band members looking adoringly to camera with additional collectively arranged spontaneous stage jumping (instruments to hand and rock salutes) on cue. Local boys Midget had shown heightened potential but somehow appeared to be swept along in the euphoria. How would they have been transformed if record sales had increased? Years have passed and the band has reformed for this occasion and the maturity shows. Again, enhanced by a crystal clear sound, these are a very tight band. The vocal harmonies complement the performance. Their ease and natural flare on stage suggests that they haven’t been estranged for long. Perhaps the appearance of a drifting plastic beach ball during their set said it all though.
Green Day endorsed post punk band China Drum hail from Northumberland. The official video for Can’t Stop These Things has more than a hint of the former band’s Basket Case in the editing, which frankly sits awkwardly if they’re aiming for originality. Even the headliners stage banner is a Green Day logo mock up that recalls past glories. Despite variable reviews of their studio output, the live coverage is generally positive. An impressive tour schedule has maintained recent momentum and despite varying ticket sales this event was sold out well in advance. The Voodoo Lounge is packed.
Can’t Stop These Things began the set in a triumphant mood; vocalist Adam Lee enthrals his audience. He’s a model frontman, whether miming the riffs, the fixed 1000 yard stare or his audience appeal. Some grandiose drum patterns and searing guitar followed. Trying Hard is a solid song with its Smells Like Teen Spirit style opening riff. Other notables were Down By The River; Biscuit Barrel; Wuthering Heights (it’s an excellent version); and even a version of Erasure’s A Little Respect for light entertainment. China Drum were respectful to the responsive crowd and they all clearly enjoyed this special night out. It won’t take much persuasion to come and see them back at this venue again.
All words by Neal Wright. More work by Neal can be found in his Louder Than War archive.