Live: Rory Indiana / Donnie Willow @ Subside, Birmingham

By Mark Johnson

As touring partnerships, go Donnie Willow and Rory Indiana make an excellent combination. Both have an aura about them as though they’re on the brink of something special thanks to their ability to write catchy, accessible songs with a distinctive personality and edge. As part of their co-headlining tour, this free show at Birmingham’s Subside gives those present a chance to witness them in an intimate setting before they inevitably move onto bigger and more populated venues in the future.

Though the modest stage should be big enough to house the three members of Donnie Willow, guitarist/vocalist Arthur Piddington and bassist Sam Peppiette aren’t about to be confined to a tiny stage, instead spilling out onto the floor. As Piddington lunges into the opening chords of ‘Stuck’, it’s clear why they need the extra space. The band’s latest EP ‘Exhibition’ has a natural sound that showcases crunching guitars and swelling volume and with all four tracks being played among the set, it’s clear that what they’ve actually done is simply capture their natural, live sound on record.

Piddington’s vocals are identical to the recordings, his clean vocals pure and bursting with character and personality, and when his screamed parts are called upon, he attacks them with the full extent of his passion and enthusiasm – emotions that are hard not to echo from the crowd.

With two members situated on the floor, drummer Peter Bunting is left to command the stage alone and as he tears through ‘I Eat Flies’ and ‘Jagged Teeth’ from their previously released mini-album ‘Inhale. Exhale’, his animated drumming and power behind the kit does plenty to carry this off.

Donnie Willow’s live performance is every bit as exciting as they appear on record and emphasises the massive achievement in capturing this energy in the studio. In an environment where it’s increasingly common for bands to enhance their live shows with backing tracks and added effects, it’s refreshing to see a band take the stage with a simple back-line, strap on an instrument and thrash through their songs. You don’t need frills when you have the talent and songwriting ability of Donnie Willow and their raw energy adds to the excitement of this trio.

The sound of Donnie Willow’s set pouring onto the street attracts additional punters into the venue, helped by it being free entry on a student night, so by the time Rory Indiana take to the stage, a decent crowd has amassed. With an additional member to contend with, Rory Indiana also set up off-stage to provide extra space and as the band cycle through their catchy pop rock, the thick chords and up-tempo drum beats give plenty of opportunity to move around.

The band’s most impressive weapon is vocalist Rory Kaye whose distinctive vocals give the band a unique character that sets them apart. The pop rock instrumentals bring the likes of Lower Than Atlantis and Deaf Havana to mind, but Kaye’s vocals take the band down a more distinctive path with the swagger of Don Broco but the melodic foresight of Press to Meco. His quick runs and vibrato aren’t a problem live, everything sounding as accurate in the room as it does on record.

Latest single ‘Tough Love’ is the biggest evidence that the band are on the cusp of something great; the catchy chorus is backed by cleverly constructed instrumentals, particularly the bridge, where impressive riffs and a well-considered structure ends the song on a high.

Although tonight’s free show, with its small stage and modest crowd, may seem unsettlingly low-key for a pair of such impressive, upcoming bands, the evidence suggests that they won’t be at this level for much longer. Both bands are gearing up to release debut full-lengths in the not too distant future and these releases should be enough to catapult them to stages more becoming of their talent and songwriting ability. Tonight proves they’ve got what it takes, now begins the wait for those highly anticipated records.