After a break of some eighteen months, and with their second album “Left” due to be released next Monday, Chichester six-piece Hope Of The States kicked off their UK tour at the Rescue Rooms with a new sound, a new approach and a new attitude.
Following the tragic suicide of guitarist James Lawrence at the start of 2004, the band could easily have taken a darker, more introspective direction, building on the brooding intensity of their debut album. Instead, they have chosen to step into the light. The new material is more optimistic, more upbeat and more conventionally rocky, displaying the sort of angular post-punk influences that can be found in the work of Editors and Bloc Party.
Sadly, this more overtly commercial, NME-friendly style did not play to the band’s strengths. Maybe it was first night nerves – after all, most of the new songs had never been played in public before – but for most of the set, it felt as if we were watching a tentative rehearsal rather than a confident, polished performance.
Sam Herilhy’s vocals were particularly lacking, with some dangerously off-key moments. As for the rest of the band, the sheer weight of numbers on stage – three guitars, keyboards, bass and violin – combined to form a disappointingly one-dimensional effect.
Of the new material, the catchy current single “Sing It Out” stood out from the pack, making you wonder why it only reached a paltry #39 in last Sunday’s singles chart.
It took until the encore for the band to finally gel. Their biggest hit, “The Red The White The Black The Blue”, sounded fantastic, as did “Black Dollar Blues” from the debut album. This was the band that we had come to see: powerful, focussed, committed, pushing their boundaries. All they need to do now is apply the old approach to the new material.
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Joan Wasser certainly keeps impeccable company, having played with Antony & The Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright and the Scissor Sisters. Unlike the lush drama of her collaborators, her solo material is austere and oblique, with an intimacy which works best over time.
At the Rescue Rooms, Joan struggled to form a connection past the first few rows of the audience, as the chatter from the back increasingly threatened to drown out her frail performance. Those who failed to “get” her should track down current single “The Ride”: a beautiful, accessible ballad which benefits from a fuller arrangement.
Later today, Guillemots will discover whether they have won Mojo magazine’s Best Newcomer award. On the strength of last night’s eccentric, whimsical performance, which frustrated as much as it intrigued, it would be a surprise victory indeed.
The multi-national six-piece are undeniably fine, creative musicians, with an amusing unconventionality and a strong mission to entertain. However, all the clever trickery on display (3D sound effects, typewriters as percussion instruments, songs collapsing into mad freak-outs before re-starting) failed to stop boredom setting in, as the underlying lack of emotional substance became increasingly apparent.
Sure, there was plenty to admire – but sadly, there was also little to love.