Club Uncut has decamped to the seaside for the duration of The Great Escape, the three-day festival in which mostly new bands fill Brighton’s plentiful pubs and clubs. Our weekend starts, though, with a disappointment, when The Slits are a late cancellation, leaving a contingent of Northern Irish girls I meet here specifically to see them in a mood of gloomy resentment.
“Europe’s really sick – California sick,” clarifies Long Beach native Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg giddily, as the band he’s named Avi Buffalo take the stage. Sub Pop are more excited by these new signings than they have been by anything for a while, and Zahner-Isenberg, a 19-year-old skate-kid, lives up to the building hype tonight. His band are in a classic ‘90s US indie mould, the single “What’s In It For” recalling Pavement at their “Cut Your Hair” poppiest, while red-cardiganed keyboardist (and Zahner-Isenberg’s on-off girlfriend) Rebecca Cooper helps suggest the warm nostalgic reveries of early eels, when every other song sounded like the “Hill Street Blues” theme. Drummer Sheridan Riley is still at school, visibly concentrating on her task like a challenging exam, adding to Avi Buffalo’s guileless charm.
“No one could make you lose faith/ Unless for someone you love,” Zahner-Isenberg sings in his controlled yelp on “Jessica”, and his songs’ twisted wordiness and heavy romance, hard to entirely unpick, should ensure a cult following at least. The crowd’s cheers indicate something more.
“We’re not The Slits,” Summer Camp’s bespectacled, sideburned guitarist/keyboardist says, helpfully keeping score. In truth, their first song sounds far more like A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, and their emphasis on evocatively antique Korg synths completes the retro-fitted ‘80s feel of their somewhat conventional ballads. The singer (the band are keeping their names anonymous, aiming at mystery), is a red-lipsticked brunette in head-to-toe leopard-skin, adding some glamour, but it’s the songs that could do with a little more thought.
The Ruby Suns are Flight Of The Conchords-approved Kiwis, apart from leader Ryan McPhun, a Californian who seems to have adopted the latter’s deadpan unhipness, actually saying, “Cheers…big ears” by way of thanks to the enthusiastic crowd still packing the Pavilion Theatre at gone midnight when The Cribs, Johnny Marr and all, are playing next door. The warm, meandering psychedelia sometimes evident on excellent third album “Fight Softly” is replaced by South Seas exotica, and slammed, part-programmed kettle-drum chimes, essaying a sort of Pacific funk. Beats elsewhere veer between “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Afropop, and there are Beach Boys-style high harmonies too.
The Ruby Suns finish with a touching tribute to the current issue of Uncut itself. “You could say this is a magazine cover, as much as a cover song,” McPhun explains, before an impromptu take on our current cover star Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”, in which his vocals phase and crumple like backward-running, chewed-up tape.
Tonight, Slits-style mishaps aside, Teenagersintokyo, Dead Confederate, Fiery Furnaces and Wild Beasts are all due on the bill. More on that tomorrow.
REVIEW: NICK HASTED