The Suffrajets, The Sob Dollies, Gods Directors

Mark L 21/03/2006

Tonight the Barfly hosted eight bands, a bit of an undertaking you may think: surely either very short sets or a long night was in store. But no, they turned the downstairs bar area into a stage and hosted four bands on each floor, giving you the nice option of being able to check out another stage 'festival style' if the band you were currently watching were not floating the boat. A nice idea.

After walking in and catching the end of a shambolic but charming indie set downstairs an energetic three man hip hop act took to the stage. Admittedly hip hop is not my thang, so after listening to a couple of songs out of a mixture of curiosity and politeness I went upstairs to witness an Iron Maiden/Guns and Roses covers band called Gods Directors who refused to play 'the hits' and insisted on playing all the b-sides. What?...hang sources tell me these guys were not a covers band and their 80s 'widdly solo' cock rock revivalism was actually very 'now' and 'for real man'. Well that explains why they wouldn't play Paradise City then. The problem here is that as far as this sort of revivalism is concerned, you have a band like Velvet Revolver doing the 'serious' end of the spectrum with more restraint and panache, and a band like The Darkness doing the 'silly' end with obvious irony and some goofy fun hooks. Whats more, Iron Maiden are still going, and Axl Rose is about to be rewoken from his cryogenic slumber. Which does not leave much room for Gods Directors who occupy a grey splodge of mediocre copycat ism, seemingly unsure themselves if they are being ironic or not. Nevertheless, this small matter didn't dent their enthusiasm, with the singer thrusting his fists in the air, shaking his Toni and Guy haircut and shouting 'Come On Barfly', which I am sure is practice for the 'Come on Wembly' bellow he will be making when the band invent that time machine and go back to a 1980s Bon Jovi support slot in an arena full of 'real rock and real men', where this sort of ho-hum caricature metal posturing deserves to stay.

After retreating downstairs a pleasant surprise came by way of the Sob Dollies who really deserved the packed audience milling about upstairs, who frankly didn't know what they were missing. One of the best unsigned bands I have seen in a long time. A female lead singer with a chilling vocal style: reminiscent of PJ Harvey, with a sharp eye for a lyric, and a crazed (and very entertaining!) dance. Her quirky vocal theatrics were well judged and at times reflected the milder (and to me, 'better') side of Bjork. Add to this gritty and angular guitar work reminiscent of Nick Zinner (YYYs), and songs that not only packed in memorable hooks but would also throw you with unexpected breakdowns and changes of pace. The sparse tension and sometimes-bare groove was a refreshing change from bands that usually want to try and fill every space in their music with unrelenting noise. Here the band were not afraid of breathing space in the music, and the synthy/dubby bass lines would settle down with the drums into a hypnotic stripped back groove, before the contrast of a crashing wailing chorus. With their occasional use of a drum machine and spartan, almost bluesy Gothic groove the Sob Dollies are ploughing a similar field to The Kills, only with much more effectiveness. They deserve to do very well indeed.

Upstairs, The Suffrajets polished and intense rock sound is a world away from the Sob Dollies, and quite a world away from when I saw them years ago as a raw three piece grunge act in Leyton under a different moniker, but the band do what they do very well and are clearly enjoying themselves. It makes a pleasant change to see a band where all the members are always smiling and very clearly not taking themselves too seriously. This enthusiasm and charm rubs of on the audience and makes for a set I would describe as 'fun' rather than 'tortured rock angst'. Which is a good thing if you simply want to have a laugh and watch some rock and roll. The 'kids' at the front are having a whale of a time, Gemma Clarkes' (ex BabyShambles) drumming is powerful, and the heavy riffing of the guitars is tempered, by the girls singing surprisingly light harmonies which comes over like a 'rawk' Bangles. The lead singer does her fair share of 'grunge' screaming though, which thankfully never wanders into that unpleasant 'possessed by a monster' sound beloved of the likes of Kittie. It's hard for me to put the Suffrajets into a box sound wise, because whilst (from what I had read) I thought I would be going to see a punk/grunge band, with their heavy use of constant riffing solos, immaculate playing, monster 'rawk sound' and milder vocal parts I was left thinking, at least musically the band sounded more like a 'classic' mainstream rock-metal band in the mould of Led Zepplin (or perhaps Metallica) than a band like early Hole or The Slits. Of course a 'classic' rock label makes you think of four sweaty pub rockers at the Walthamstow Standard playing Deep Purple covers, but luckily here you have the enthusiasm of four girls, some catchy hooks, and just enough Nirvana esque vocal edge to keep it dangerous and interesting. They only played a short set from what I saw, so I'd be interested to hear more (and what they sound like on record) before coming to a more definite judgment on their sound. Nevertheless this was an energetic rock set with a welcome female touch.

On the way out of the door, downstairs a Libertines esque band were playing to a healthy crowd. Sadly it was time to go, but well done to the promoters of this entertaining night (Rouse Studios) for putting on such a variety of acts, over two stages, for a reasonable price (5).