What better way to kick off the final night of Club Uncut at The Great Escape than with a Brooklyn bar band – or indeed, a bar solo artist, the wily R’n’B raconteur Hans Chew.
Joined only by his guitarist Dave ‘The Horse’ Cavallo (the rest of his band couldn’t make it, presumably being less cost-effective…), the pianist performs an enthralling set of his bluesy story songs at the Pavilion Theatre.
Chew is perhaps even better in such a stripped-down setting, backed only by Cavallo’s stinging Telecaster, allowing the artistry in his songs to shine through.
“Queen Of The Damned Blues”, from his debut album, Tennessee & Other Stories…, is one of the highlights of the set – a labyrinthine, Dylan-esque ode to the titular character. “Sitting by the pool/Feeling like a goddamn fool”, Chew wisecracks in one song, while a new track seems to widen the group’s harmonic palette. “This one will be on our next record,” he tells the audience. “Unless we write something better before then.”
Electronic duo Solar Bears, up next, are quite the opposite of the slow-burning Blanck Mass on Friday; their sound is relentlessly upbeat and compact, their uptempo motorik beats overlaid with sparkling synth arpeggios and whistling oscillators.
Though Uncut’s Michael Chapman astutely detected the influence of ’70s public information film tones of the type coveted by the Ghostbox label, there also appears to be a more recent retro element to Solar Bears’ sound – harking back to 1998, perhaps, when Warp was at its trailblazing peak and Orbital were experimenting with darker moods on The Middle Of Nowhere.
Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny, perhaps now the biggest act that Uncut’s hosting in Brighton this year, take the stage beaming at the large crowd, the singer’s bleached-blonde hair piled high and messy, as always. “I just woke up,” she mumbles.
Along with Jeans Houghton’s impressive voice, hitting every note spot on and warbling like a choirgirl, her band whip up a folk storm, as galloping as a mariachi band and as soulful as Dexy’s. The stage banter from the singer-songwriter and her group (consisting of a drummer, violinist, keyboardist, bassist and guitarist/trumpet player) is self-consciously hilarious, too – “I did an interview earlier today, and I told the interviewer I really smelt,” recounts Jeans Houghton. “And she wanted to smell me. What did she say I smelt like?” “Like rotting meat,” replies guitarist Ed Blazey. Another anecdote about a drunk guy wetting himself went down brilliantly with the crowd – but I’m afraid wouldn’t work in the cold light of a blog…
The group’s harmonies throughout are also spot-on and rousing, elevating idiosyncratic lyrics like those on “Atlas” to hymns of celebration. Jeans Houghton ends with her customary closer, the Pogues-recalling stomper “Prick AKA Sean”, its rousing chorus of “fuck off!” echoing through the theatre.
The final Club Uncut act of the festival, EMA, stalks onstage in a hooded top, like a boxer, reciting a dramatic monologue about staying up for days strung out on various chemicals, entitled “Fargo”, before showcasing the majority of her songs from Past Life Martyred Saints.
Her eclectic songs are rooted variously in noisy ’80s guitar-rock and reverb-drenched synth-pop, and appear to be the conduits for Erika M Anderson to exorcise her memories of adolescence and America. For someone whose music needs little embellishment, there are all manner of arm movements and symbolic posturing going on. At times, the visual accompaniment’s impressive, such as when Anderson covers herself in a web of fairy lights and the lights go down, but it can get hammy, especially near the climax of the set, where the frontwoman stiffly mimes a gun.
EMA’s secret weapon is her multi-instrumentalist, however, who uses his electric violin more like a guitar or a synthesiser, conjuring brittle, echoed drones like a dubby John Cale at the beginning of the set, and letting waves of distortion loose later.
By the time the epic “California” appears, EMA’s intense performance has transported most of the audience into her world, to live out her dirty, tattered American Dream along with her.
So a fantastic closing night to Club Uncut’s time at The Great Escape. Have a look at the August issue of Uncut (out at the end of June) for a full review of the acts who’ve graced the Pavilion Theatre.
Photograph: Richard Johnson