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Never underestimate a young band with charisma, or their ability to amass a faithful group of followers in a devastatingly short space of time. Despite continuing to play smaller venues, San Cisco have been proving just how popular they are since their triple j blitz in 2011.
Hours before they were scheduled to play at the Corner Hotel on Saturday, a core group of suspiciously short devotees were encamped squarely in front of the stage, waiting to squeal, bounce and sing along to every song, including all the ones on the new album that the rest of us had never heard until a week ago. It may not be rare to see everyone having such a fun time at one of their shows, but it definitely felt special.
Earlier, Chela had fronted a smallish crowd to deliver her brand of mid-tempo low-tech dance pop, with help from a single guitarist and backing track. It’s always a brave move performing with this setup, especially as a support act. With no band to hide behind, any weaknesses are often immediately apparent. Thankfully, the strength of her songs carried her set and her energy never wavered, constantly moving and challenging the audience to engage and participate throughout. Some songs relied on melodies that recalled your favourite 80's indie bands, others neatly slotted in next to modern alt pop a la Ladyhawke, with closer Full Moon getting at least a few recalcitrant feet shuffling.
With two people fronting The Preatures, their performance was always going to have a touch of the theatrical, and it felt apt that the smokey, slinky intro to current single Pale Rider began behind closed stage curtains. They opened to reveal the band, before singer Isabella glided onstage just in time to deliver her opening lines, transfixing plenty in the room with her rich vocals and lithe form. Next was sultry country-tinged Threat, and Gideon’s hips were snaking behind his guitar until he had the chance to jump behind the mic for Sleeping Serial. His bucking, yelping delivery added a punky edge to their sound, playing off Isabella’s smooth, reverb-heavy crooning. The pair have great chemistry, especially when sharing vocal duties on Take a Card and new song Drive Away.
Their sound is well-realised, sitting on the Gothic side of pop somewhere between Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Shadows, and PJ Harvey. Even their most radio-friendly number is a somewhat cynical comment on radio-friendly numbers. This probably makes them unlikely to inspire the same kind of joyous fervour that San Cisco can, but that seemed to suit them just fine. All are confident, accomplished musicians, and both singers gave their utmost to the material, clearly relishing their roles as professional front people and itching for larger crowds all their own.
The pocket of hardcore San Cisco fans had been amassing during the evening, and when the house lights dimmed for the headline act, the response was enormous. The band emerged onstage, backlit and shrouded in smoke, to a gigantic cheer from the crowd. From first song to last (and in spite of an ill band member, apparently) their agenda was relentlessly boppy, high-energy, major-key guitar pop. Imagine Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys, only faster.
They are a deceptively youthful band, and their frontman Jordi is both magnetic and disarming. “I wrote this song when I was a baby,” he says deprecatingly, after requesting assistance in singing the “wah-doo, dah-doo, da-da-da” hook in Lover. Not that the crowd needed to be asked – most had been singing along from the very first song and they wallowed in his grateful praise.
This is a much beefier band live than on record, which only gives more punch to their songs, and drummer Scarlett gets an awfully big sound from apparently minimal effort. Slower tracks like Reckless have been reworked to keep the momentum up and the emphasis on “fun”, and when Toast was introduced as a song about “someone I really don’t like”, it’s hard to take them seriously – it just sounds like they’re having too good a time to bother about disliking anyone too much.
The audience’s display of unabashed fanaticism was in full swing towards the end of the night, with even those who only knew the songs from the radio able to join the love-in during Wild Things. Joined onstage by Chela and some dancing Preatures for crowd favourite Awkward, band and audience alike were clearly enjoying themselves and in no rush to leave. John’s Song, the first of the encore, was about as low-key as their set got, Jordi taking the stage solo for a nostalgic ballad designed to hit just the right sentimental notes. Then it was back to dancing tempo for set closer and highlight Rocket Ship, joined once again by the other artists, as well as some overstimulated fans who were promptly removed by security.
The enthusiasm of the crowd was as infectious as the band’s energy, and if that was any indication of a typical San Cisco gig, the huge queue at The Corner for their all-ages gig the very next day could only be a signal that Bieber-esque mass hysteria was about to occur. They’re going to need more security soon, that’s for sure.