LIVE: Owls / Johnny Foreigner @ The Dome, London

By Ben Tipple

It’s a cult thing. Some people tonight will have waited more than a decade to be in the same room as Owls – or perhaps more specifically their frontman and all-round eccentric Tim Kinsella. Joining him is brother Mike on drums, also of singer-songwriter fame as Owen, and the driving force behind emo pioneers American Football. In fact, their musical heritage continues with direct links to Cap’n Jazz, Joan Of Arc and many more influential outfits from the late 90s and early 00s.

Expectedly, there’s more than a little crossover in tonight’s audience, ranging from the plaid wearing throngs to the, at least superficially, introverted music geeks and the dedicated emo-punk revivalist. Having just released album number two – imaginatively entitled ‘Two – some thirteen years after their debut record, tonight has attracted young and old to the oddly kitsch Dome in London’s Tufnell Park.

Johnny Foreigner take the accolade of main support for the cult superstars – subtly arriving on stage to an increasingly full room, just Alexei Berrow and his sultry tones emanating from the PA. As he is joined by his fellow band members, Berrow and co-vocalist Kelly Southern complement each other perfectly; her voice adding a unique depth to an already mesmerising sound. As Berrow expresses his gratitude in supporting life-long heroes, there’s an air of mutual respect and genuine fanaticism in the room. It’s a cult thing. Ultimately, at least for this lowly Editor, Johnny Foreigner are the best thing to be seen tonight.

Owls are certainly intriguing. Deliberately or not, frontman Tim Kinsella is the main focal point. He literally twists and turns around the stage, occasionally dropping from sight as he croons from the floor of the deep stage. His inter-song banter is odd to say the least, and at one point he opts to undo his shirt before an evident rethink that results in him redressing himself immediately, whilst still addressing the crowd.

Musically, things are equally odd. Having heard the records both upon their release, and in the days leading up to the show, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a typical performance, but what sounds bizarre on record, sounds even more confused on stage. Kinsella deliberately misses notes. Known for his ability to make the off-key work, at times it sounds like a possessed drunk man. It’s a cult thing.

Herein lies the difficulty. As a self-proclaimed non-die-hard Owls fan, and somewhat removed from the justifiable hero-worship that the Kinsella brothers and their projects entice, this show isn’t for me. Not in a disapproving way, but in its focus. This show is an indulgence. It’s a collection of people who wish to be enveloped in a sound they have either loved for years, or come to love. Ultimately I am left largely dumbfounded. At least I am thinking something. I guess it’s a cult thing.