Tawny Owl and the Birds of Prey, Cold Hands

Alex Nelson 02/01/2010

Only two days into a new decade and I find myself travelling down with great trepidation to catch one of my favourite local bands, Cold Hands, tear it up in the big smoke. Kicking off a Norwich double-bill of sorts (stage-mates for the evening come in the shape of Milkbar label-mates Tawny Owl & The Birds of Prey) as part of Cool For Cats' First Party of the Year, the band take to the stage nervously in front of a swelling crowd of Shoreditch punters.

Opening with Return to the Circus Circus which takes its form as a quick instrumental burst of jagged guitars and searing noise, before announcing Hello, we are Cold Hands, and diving into their set proper. The band sound fuller than ever before even through the venue's fairly limited sound system. Whether this is a deliberate effect or not remains to be seen, but many songs actually sound unrecognisable, with clearly pronounced lyrics in place of the ear-blistering lo-fi scuzz pop they have become renowned for.
The band quickly find their feet, shaking off any nerves or pretensions they may have had when first taking to the stage, as guitarist Cameron and bassist James stamp and head jerk their way through the set in familiar fashion. The only major hiccup occurs during Sunderground, when Cameron's guitar decides to detune itself horribly, rendering it unplayable. This ends in a more stripped back than planned rendition of the song, but this only really adds to a set where every song seems to sound completely different to any version you've ever heard before.

After a quick tuning session, the pace is quickly brought back to speed with the double whammy of Sleep and 126, a ferocious, Bromheads Jacket-esque mash of lightening quick vocals and thrash fuzz riffery. The band choose to end their set with Be Side, an arpeggiated series of winding guitars which sounds nothing like anything you've heard up to this point, before falling into the well acquainted sound of crashing cymbals and wailing guitars. It culminates in an explosion of screeching feedback as the trio leave the stage almost as modestly as they came on.

Heading up the Norwich double-bill are Tawny Owl & The Birds of Prey in one of only a handful of performances while the collective are all in one place over the Christmas period. Coming on to a now mandatory slow-burn of ambient guitar glitches and noises, the band tremble through their set of brooding melodic madrigals, Jack's crooning vocals and piercing guitar layering themselves over the rest of the band's atmospheric leanings, all scratchy guitars and pounding drums. Ghost Writer proves to be a highlight of the set, its darker first-half reverberating around the room, Jack's lead guitar chiming chords all over the melancholically delivered vocals before giving way to the more upbeat second part, bright sounding 'woah-ohs' evoking the spirit of 60s girl groups.

The set ends in typically raucous fashion, a spree of ensemble noise segueing into a cover of Animal Collective's My Girls, before once again losing all structure and free-falling into clatter. Jack rakes at his guitar with a drumstick like a man possessed whilst yelping into the mic seemingly uncontrollably, and bassist Sam Hill loops grinding bass sounds over one another with his impressive knowledge of effects pedals to create a cacophony of sounds. One final triumphant cry of We are Tawny Owl & The Birds of Prey... we are from Norwich... but we are your friends, and the barrage of sonance comes to a halt, leaving the room to fill with the whooping of the crowd.
Hands down, gig of the decade (thus far).