LIVE: Gaffa Tape Sandy / Beach Riot / Gnarlah @ Komedia, Brighton

By Andy Joice

On a dreary Monday night, where the rain falls incessantly and everyone is rightly cautious about an impending pandemic, expectations are low at Brighton’s Komedia – a venue that’s usually used for comedy nights and unconventional club nights. They shouldn’t be. Adopted hometown heroes Gaffa Tape Sandy are top of the bill, and they won’t let anything get in the way of the opening date of their UK tour.

Opening the bill in Komedia’s Studio Lounge is Gnarlah, the first of three bands to call Brighton their home. As the room starts to fill, Gnarlah are not afraid to greet them with a wall of sound, with driving basslines ringing out. Considering the band have been together for little over a year, their dedication and declaration of noise is both surprising and impressive. Ren Woods and Travis Powers both seemingly vie for the most dominant voice, yet the harmonies between the clean and unclean vocals are almost pitch perfect. With Jacob Andrews beating the shit out of his drums, the chaotic sound is mere moments from stepping over the line of destructive to sloppy, and yet, everything was held just a tiptoe behind that line, keeping the steadily increasing crowd moving. Even the inclusion of cowbell during ‘Slave’ and ‘Fix Me’ isn’t enough to quench the thirst for more. If this is the band 12 months in, they’ll only get better and better.

Following a musical clinic is always likely to be difficult. Luckily, newly signed Alcopop sweethearts Beach Riot also come to play to their home crowd and whip the 140 capacity venue into a frenzy of bouncing and singalongs. Crowd interaction may not be their strong suit, but hearing fans sing the chorus of ‘Robot’ back at dual vocalists Cami Menditeguy and Rory O’Connor brings out the swag in the band, who proceed to kick it up a notch. Throwing out latest single ‘Tune In, Drop Out’ and crowd favourite ‘Good To Know (That I’m Still On Your Mind)’, their punchy brand of fuzz pop lands perfectly into the ears of everyone present, inching them forwards towards the stage like ants at a picnic. The harmonies between Menditeguy and O’Connor are ever present, coursing over the pounding beats and underpinning basslines from Jonny Ross and Jim Faulkner respectively – it’s clear these friends have created a brand that’s so tight, it’s almost difficult to believe.

Finally, after mere moments to catch our breath, the third and final local band take to the stage. Gaffa Tape Sandy may originally be from Bury St Edmunds, but their sound is Brighton born and bred, and rings with the same distinctive tones as their two supports. One thing is for sure – Brighton is their adopted home, and Gaffa Tape Sandy are our adopted band. This is the first night of their tour, and completely sold out, with any worry of stage rust is quickly put to bed.

Opening with ‘Smart Dressed Guy’, space opens dramatically at the back of the room as swarms push further forward to embrace the atmosphere. ‘Smart Dressed Guy’ might be one of their oldest songs, but its strength is in its dynamism –a bluesy bassline, easily memorable hooks, and bouncing between quiet and loud phases, it’s the perfect introduction to a back catalogue of varied songs. Proof of this is seeing bodies float above the crowd a mere five minutes into the set, midway through 2019 single ‘My Desperate House’. Delving deep into their back catalogue, ‘Transylvania’ and ‘Black Christmas’ – both from 2017 EP ‘Spring Killing’ – make welcome returns, with bassist-vocalist Catherine Lindley-Neilson stating, “it’s the first time we’ve played this in a while”. Suffice to say, the crowd pops more than someone opening a tube of Pringles.

Gaffa Tape Sandy are one of those rare bands that sound better live than studio recordings. Musically, they are as on point as on record – a clue to how well drilled they are – but vocally, their personality shines out. With Lindley-Neilson making dynamic changes to the lyrics on the fly and fellow vocalist Kim Jarvis doing the same, every song feels unique to the night, yet incredibly familiar. Fan favourites ‘Water Bottle’, ‘Headlights’ and ‘Beehive’ create singalong moments, with the two vocalists harmonising not only together, but with the crowd too. Historically, they’ve used the crucible of live shows to test new songs so there’s no surprise, but plenty of jubilation, when they kick into latest musing ‘Evil Evil Evil’.

As they announce their last song, Lindley-Neilson dedicates it to the Komedia. “It’s venues like these that keep us touring. It’s difficult times but support our local music and art scenes,” she says, before flying into ‘Kill The Chord’, a riposte to the major cuts to arts funding.

As we all start to disperse into the night, there’s a few lasting impressions. The main one being that nothing – shit weather, Monday nights, or impending pandemics – will stop Gaffa Tape Sandy lighting up a room, and lighting up the hearts of a crowd.