LIVE: Holding Absence / Press To Meco / Acres @ Scala, London

By Gem Rogers

Some gigs have ‘do not miss this’ written all over them. The kind of shows where it doesn’t matter how many hours you have to spend on a train or plane, how much you need to beg your boss for time off, or how tired you’re going to be the next day as you crawl back into work. This is exactly one of those gigs. Holding Absence performing every track they’ve released to date in chronological order? Wild horses couldn’t keep us away from this one.

By the time doors open, anyone arriving is greeted by a queue that snakes all the way down the side of London’s Scala, disappearing around the corner – it makes it a little tricky to get in in time for the full set from openers Acres, who start just fifteen minutes after doors, but it’s well worth the early arrival to catch the south coast four piece. Their brooding, atmospheric post-hardcore has a driving heaviness underneath soaring vocal melodies, held tightly together throughout the set; singles ‘Lonely World’ and ‘Talking In Your Sleep’ show the band at their best, with a captivating intensity that sets Acres out as a band to watch closely in the future.

Second to take to the stage, Press To MECO are the kind of band capable of playing just about any venue, anywhere, and making it their own. Sure enough, for half an hour, Scala is in the palm of their hands, and they promptly fill it with glorious harmonies and joy by the bucketload – nobody sounds quite like Press To MECO, as the trio fuse all the best parts of pop with technical and pulsing rock, and nobody could ever come close to imitating it. There’s simply nothing to fault in this all too brief set, with the likes of ‘If All Your Parts Don’t Make A Whole’ and ‘Easy Life’ reaching every corner of the room, and more than warming things up for the remainder of the evening.

‘Excitement’ doesn’t quite seem to be the right word to describe the mood in this 800 capacity venue in the lead up to tonight’s headline set. Holding Absence only released their debut self-titled album in March this year, but after a few years of steadily building up a dedicated fanbase, tonight feels like the climax of this band’s incredible first chapter. For newer fans, it’s also an opportunity to hear some of these songs for the first time – and for older fans, it may be the last chance to hear more than a few of them, at least for a little while.

Opening with the collection of songs that started their journey and the all-enveloping atmosphere of ‘Permanent’, it’s instantly clear just how special this night is going to be. A brief technical hiccup at the start is swiftly forgotten as Scala is overtaken by singing voices and raised arms, and just a hint of chaos – but the best kind of chaos. It’s a room full of people instantly lost in music they love, and it only gets better as the night goes on; ‘Saint Cecilia’ earns one of the biggest singalongs towards the end of this first part of the set, rounded off by the cinematic ‘Everything’, before the stage is plunged into brief darkness.

By the time the first notes of album opener ‘Perish’ ring out, it already feels like the evening is going too quickly, but with some of the biggest singalong moments in ‘Your Love (Has Ruined My Life)’ and ‘Like A Shadow’ following soon after, there’s no time to ruminate on it. These moments, where the voices of the crowd elevate far above the sound from the stage, are goosebump-inducingly glorious, while the heartrending power of tracks like ‘You Are Everything’ sweep away the cold of the outside world.

The atmosphere in the room is one of pure happiness and love that continues to build, as fans clamber on each other’s shoulders and sing together (and, of course, crowdsurf like there’s no tomorrow), and it’s reflected on the faces of the four musicians on stage too. Holding Absence have an energy and passion that is plain to see, and it’s one of the reasons they have become so beloved – their live shows become more of a life-affirming experience than ‘just a gig’, sharing the joy of life and living with the crowd. It isn’t passion alone that makes this show the spectacle it is, though; the musicianship is truly stunning, a quality demonstration of how to make music come alive.

From the stripped-back ‘Marigold’ to the anthemic ‘Monochrome’ and dark cries of ‘Last Of The Evening Light’, Lucas Woodland’s vocals hold a light all of their own and it is shining brightly tonight, with an almost unreal strength and purity in every note across this varied night. While some chronological album playthroughs can feel a bit disjointed – the most popular tracks sitting uncomfortably early in the set – it’s evident here just how cohesive and well-structured Holding Absence’s debut is, as it flows naturally through the night without ever growing stale and builds to a beautiful, echoing finale in ‘Wilt’. It’s hard not to cling to every moment of these last six minutes, to stay lost in this vast, rich soundscape for just a little while longer – but all things must end, and this is truly the best way to draw the curtain.

If anyone held any doubt that Holding Absence are one of the UK’s best and brightest young bands, this is a night that proves them wrong. There is a fire and a passion not just in these four musicians, but in all those who hear and love this music, that makes them truly special, and the long road that led them to tonight’s show has shaped them into a band that cannot be ignored. This is Holding Absence – and this is only the beginning.