The Blood Arm
Wintherthur Albani, Switzerland
The gig is in full swing but the Albani is empty apart from one audience member (me) and one band (The Blood Arm). Sound bad? It isn’t.
Past the empty dancefloor, beyond the stage where three of The Blood Arm are wigging out just for me and themselves, effervescent singer Nathaniel Fregoso is having a riot of his own. With the rest of his audience. He’s crouched on the wooden shelf of the cloakroom door, singing one of the last songs of the night some 50 feet behind the stage. Two minutes earlier, he’d implored the previously quiet Swiss crowd: “You bored of this room? Ever see a show out there? Come on out to the other room with me.” And, with the aid of an extra-long mic lead, he’s gone and done just that. They’re all out there, snapping away on mobile phones, leaving the venue itself bare.
It’s not the first impressive gimmick of the night, either. Throughout the set he’s been memorising audience member names one by one until he is able to recite the whole damn lot: “John, Eloise, Amanda, Snake, Stefan… etc etc”. And during a particularly moving rendition of confusing ghostly love song ‘Angela’, he’s effortlessly persuaded the entire crowd to sit right down on their asses on the floor with him.
Yes, Nathaniel would make a cracking primary school teacher. But beyond these shenanigans and his clearly exuberant stage presence, he has a caramel voice that cuts straight to the heart while sounding uncannily like Neil Sedaka.
What a secret weapon! And here’s another: Dyan Valdes straddles two keyboards like Rick Wakeman but devoid of daftness, a swishy dress in place of the grumpy old bastard’s wizard cloak. Her piano wizardry on songs like ‘Guillotine’ (which would appear to unite French revolutionary martyrs with space-age alienettes) and the super-Stoogesy ‘I Need You’ all but melt the stage with their thumping bass keys and tinkly overtones.
Here is a very special band: tuneful and infectious, completely demanding of attention, thundering in delivery thanks to exceptional drummer Zach Amos and powerdriven guitarist Zebastian Carlisle, and – if that’s not enough – utterly intriguing. Snatches of lyric picked up during ‘Introducing Randy Newman’ and ‘The Chasers’ reveal a band with a good deal of emotional and artistic substance. None less so than in pindrop-moment ‘Going To Arizona’, surely the best song EVER written about the loneliness of the long-distance touring band. “We’re going to leave our sweethearts/When they least expect it”, sing the whole band, followed by Nathaniel’s blindingly spot-on line “Destinations change on these long highways/Every face is a blur, there’s not a place remembered.”
The faces on the kids slowly returning from the impromptu cloakroom cupboard performance would beg to differ: this is a band they will not forget for a very long time.