Live Review: Japanese Voyeurs/Sharks/Wounds @ Barfly, London

Artist: Japanese Voyeurs + Sharks + Wounds
Venue: Barfly, London
Date: 2/2/10

Arriving literally just in time to see Irish lads Wounds open tonight’s show, I’d be lying if I was surprised by just how great their performance was. Playing to a half full Barfly audience who are full of trepidation and standing right at the back of the room, the band seemingly took the audience’s fears and exacerbated them mercilessly. Within seconds of their opening salvo of ragged riffs, guitarist James Coogan is in the middle of the room, throwing his instrument and limbs all over the place. It’s not long before his brother and vocalist Aiden has joined him, the two bounding around the space like jacked-up kangaroos, getting in the faces of the perplexed audience.

James cuts his knee, and Adrian wraps the microphone cord around his throat that just about sums up the relentless amounts of energy exuding from both stage and performers. The crowd are taken aback and seemingly unable to appreciate the riffs they throw out, but in such an intimate setting it’s not hard to feel that at any point these guys could quite literally explode. They give themselves a chance and impress with a cover of Iggy and the Stooge’s classic punk hit ‘Search And Destroy’, but their own material stands out just as strong, especially the final breathless vocal refrains of ‘All My Friends Are Fucking Dead’. Wounds look to be capable of leaving a searing mark on whatever they do next.

Following this, Sharks take to the stage. Looking like they’ve stumbled out of a DeLorean, dressed like their dads would have at their age, their music echoes their finely crafted image. There’s more than a hint of The Clash worship going on here, with the denim jackets, punk haircuts and tunes that pack a punch that suggest the ’70s are still alive and well. Whilst a tight unit, the choice of genre they chose to bury themselves in lacks any imagination or originality, and it all comes across as a tribute act with their own original material.

This is expressed wonderfully when I get talking to a couple of chaps in their older years after the band have cleared the stage. They loved it, clearly finding that it brought back some of that aggro-nature that would have been the culture of my dad’s time, but from the perspective of younger ears it lacked anything to make it stand out as a worthwhile listen. An undeniably solid performance, if one that has been rehearsed and replicated for well over thirty years.

By the time the diminutive and young faces of Japanese Voyeurs meekly walk onto the stage the Barfly has become a packed house. For such a young band, they’ve found themselves the receivers of great praise since the release of their debut EP ‘Sicking And Creaming’ last year, and it’s no surprise when they start performing these songs live. It has to be said, lead lady Romily Alice is an enrapturing treat for the eyes, but her voice stands out as one of the more unique female vocal talents to come out of the list of bands regurgitating the grunge era. I suppose a disclaimer about the ‘marmite’-esque reaction to her voice might be necessary, but amongst the dirty riffs her voice speaks out as the band’s most vital element, creating a gripping listening experience if you can accept her style.

Elsewhere the band showcase a tight, and exceptionally modest show. Alice lets a little smile creep across her face as the audience applauds, clearly stoked and maybe a little bit surprised about the reaction. The rest of the band rock out accordingly, dominating proceedings with some genuinely crushing riffs that contrast well with Alice’s not-quite-an-innocent-girl lyrics, especially on ‘Dumb’.

The only misplaced element is the addition of rather lacklustre keyboards. Hidden away in the corner, and hanging around the sound like the ghost of Rick Wakeman, the keys at times undermine the overall sound of the band. In fact, they seem rather an afterthought, with the tracks not involving keyboards coming across as much rawer and solid than those with. Perhaps in time the band can find an appropriate use for the instrument, but at the moment it suggests a few too many ideas being thrown into the musical pot.

Japanese Voyeurs are an impressive conclusion to the night. Like Sharks they represent a throwback to an era long gone and supposedly buried. However, they add just enough of their own attitude and unique talent to make a strong case for remaining relevant and interesting, and at any rate the tunes they’ve put together so far are ear-grabbing enough to avoid too much criticism.

View photos from the night here.

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