LIVE: Spanish Love Songs / Heart Attack Man @ Electric Ballroom, London

By Katherine Allvey

Spanish Love Songs are regular visitors to the UK, averaging at least a brief tour every year for the last six years (the grim years of the pandemic not included), but the potency of the Angelinos’ unflinchingly honest but also somehow uplifting sound is not diluted by their frequent visits, judging by how quickly their show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom sold out and how rapidly the queue outside the venue grew. Long before the doors opened it stretched around the corner, with serious faces searching online setlists to guess how their favourite band would open the show. 

But first, the band which roughly half of the audience are representing on their shirts: Heart Attack Man. It’s far more obvious when Heart Attack Man perform that they come from a hardcore background compared to their relative smoothness on their records, especially given vocalist Eric Egan’s tendency to slip into a throaty roar, but their sound has progressed beyond sub-genre labels. Looping guitar riffs between songs like a glitching VHS tape, they make witty, cynical punk rock with a slice of surrealism. ’C4’s cartoonish trampoline energy is rougher around the edges live, and it’s the theatrical, millennial nihilism of ‘Like a Kennedy’ that draws the crowd lurking around the bars straight into the pit. Loose anticipation floats to the surface as sarcastic laughter bounces over our heads like a beach ball.

Between bands, the steely dedication of the average Spanish Love Songs fan is revealed. The vast majority of the crowd do not move to grab a drink, or even check their phones. They stare thoughtfully at the stage, even ignoring the band themselves when they come onstage briefly and awkwardly to soundcheck. The keen edge of the dedication Spanish Love Songs raise is tight in the air. 

Lit from below like stadium angels, vocalist Dylan Slocum pauses for a moment and grins to himself, taking in the crowd’s hunger before he slowly dangles the opening line of ‘Lifers’ in front of us to open the set. He throws each note, creating echoed ripples as we sing each line back to him. There’s a euphoric intensity in every second of their performance which deserves a bigger space than this box next to the tube station; perhaps an open twilight festival skyline to sing our fears into. Keyboard player Meredith Van Woert raises her hands to rouse us to further applause, but there’s no need. Our overwhelming depth of sentiment is huge and entirely organic. They know how to manipulate and build our feelings, leaving the most poignant line in each song alone without backing to let it sink into our minds. In the midst of ‘Losers’s intellectual thrashing, the first crowd surfer travels in slow motion across the front of the stage.

There’s a deep contradiction at the heart of Spanish Love Songs’ music that becomes more prominent in their live sets.  “I’m having a blast,” smiles Slocum after ‘I’m Gonna Miss Everything’ in a rare display of warmth. “I’m losing my shit up here and you don’t even know it!” There is so much positivity in their set, but it’s the result of victory over adversity and winning battles against yourself. Suffering lurks behind each song, ready to pounce unless warded off by enthusiastic singing. Slocum points and waves like Greg Graffin, clutching his head in his vehemence as he processes what he needs to pour from his chest, creating music that makes us bounce. As a crowd, we get it. We get what he’s been through, and what he’s trying to put into words. There’s no bitterness in any of the lyrical darkness tonight, just an appreciated brutal and melodic reflection on our lived realities. “I don’t care what reason you find. Just stay the fuck alive. My favourite personal reason: to spite every fucker out there,” he laughs, grinding his pain into gold dust to sprinkle on us with each passing note of ‘Marvels’. ‘Haunted’s crystal synths and the iridescent echoes on the backing vocals envelope us, and by ‘Brave Faces’ we’re walking taller. We feel seen, richer for knowing that someone can create the kind of beauty we feel in ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ from the experiences we all share. 

There’s no encore, but the Spanish Love Songs experience is only paused by the band finishing their set. As we shuffle out of the venue, most people have their flyers unfolded and are buying their presale tickets for the band’s next visit to London in July. We’ve experienced a show which takes us into ourselves and out the other side via ‘grouchrock’ that defies definition: of course we’re ready for more.