LIVE: Deaf Havana @ Alexandra Palace, London

By Yasmin Brown

Using the very same decorative pink neon light as they did at their release show in St Pancras Church over a year ago, Deaf Havana take to the stage at Alexandra Palace’s theatre for their final Ritual. And, as the album name suggests, this is going to be a religious experience. 

‘Rituals’ is an album that saw this Kings Lynn band move in an entirely unexpected direction, and yet it’s seen them garner the most support and success of perhaps any of their albums to date. They took a risk, and looking around at the increasingly packed floor, it’s a risk that paid off. 

Tonight this London crowd is lucky enough to hear ‘Rituals’ played live in full for the very first (and probably last) time as part of the War Child concert series, with a pound from every ticket sold being donated to the cause. It’s a special occasion for both the band and their fans, and we’re about to drink in every single second.

From the moment the show starts, there’s no doubt that Alexandra Palace’s theatre is the perfect setting for this special show, a setting that draws deserved attention to the stunning magnitude of front man James Veck-Gilodi’s ever phenomenal vocals and the perfect synchronisation between him and his talented bandmates. The venue itself also adds to the spiritualistic experience – the semi-dilapidated walls and theatrical balconies providing perfect acoustics, allowing the music to reverberate throughout the room and give it an even more authentic feel.

For this first half of the set, the crowd gives the band its full attention, ensuring this record receives the respect that it’s always deserved, and creating an atmosphere that perfectly reflects the dark, sombre tones of the themes that live within it. There are moments where the crowd drowns out the band as they sing along, and it’s clear that these songs mean everything to the Deaf Havana fans in attendance. This response is met with sheer humility from the band, shown through sincere pats of the chest at the sheer love with which the songs are met by the sea of bodies before them. 

The full album performance ends far too soon, leaving fans to simmer in all of the emotion that ‘Rituals’ was designed to provoke, and a short intermission ensues, bringing attention to the philanthropic undertones of this show. The War Child concert series not only raises money for the charity, but tonight we also have the opportunity to hear directly from a Sri Lankan war child herself, bringing the reality of this issue to the forefront of our minds and cementing why we should continue to support such a cause. 

The band returns with a whole new attitude for the second part of the set, dropping their ‘cool guy’ personas and greeting us with the goofy, laid back characters that we’ve come to adore over the years. Following a crackly, 1940s version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I Did it my Way’, the band swiftly moves into ‘I Will’ and ‘Trigger’ – two songs that see an instant spike in energy due to the rockier vibe, as well as an ever welcome dose of nostalgia.

For the first time, those seated on the balcony rise to their feet, and it’s evident that this second half will be far less controlled than the first. From the occasional anecdote (including how they had just minutes to taste the specially crafted Rituals beer before realising it was, in fact, a pint of pipe cleaner), to a wholesome birthday sing along (cake and all) for guitarist Matt Veck-Gilodi, to the largest grins you’ve ever seen, this half of the set is undeniably more laid back and light-hearted.

On the floor, you see groups of young men with their arms shamelessly around each other, dancing happily to their favourite songs without a care in the world, and the entranced state that dominated the first half is long forgotten. Matt notes that he often feels like he’s intruding in places like this theatre, but there’s nothing out of place about the joy that fills its confines tonight, not least during the insanely stunning performance of old fan favourite ‘Happiness’.

Deaf Havana have the ability to build up to absolute musical chaos and immediately soften the atmosphere with little time to adjust. It’s an incredible skill that takes you on a turbulent and emotional journey. We laugh and scream and dance, but at times we want to cry, too. The ability to connect with fans on such an emotional level is a testament to this band and their performance. While the venue certainly lends itself perfectly to a band like Deaf Havana, there’s no denying that they maximise this theatre’s potential.

This is a special night with a special band, and not a moment of it is taken for granted. As the ‘Rituals’ era draws to a close, we can’t help but be left wondering what incredible things may be coming next.