LIVE: Spanish Love Songs / SUDS @ The Lexington, London

By Rob Barbour

Between the pandemic lockdowns and subsequent tours being nixed by multiple band members contracting Covid-19 itself, it’s been three years and an entire album cycle since Spanish Love Songs last played in the UK. Actually, it’s more like three years, three months, one week and four days. But who’s counting? 

Well for starters, the 200 people crammed into The Lexington in London tonight for a gig that sold out in a second. That’s not a turn of phrase – over 1,000 people tried to buy tickets in the time it took to refresh the Dice FM app. Taking place on a balmy late-Spring evening, the show is a warm-up (in every sense of the phrase) for Slam Dunk Festival and could be described as “intimate” in the same way as repeated unwanted advances from a colleague might be considered “romantic”; technically accurate but lacking some critical information.

First up are Norwich quartet SUDS. Recently signed to Big Scary Monsters and riding a minor wave of hype off the back of their warmly-received ‘In The Undergrowth’ EP, SUDS are an even more exciting prospect live than on record. They somehow blend midwest emo/math riffs with shoegaze indie, and Mae Cater is in possession of a voice forged in a collision between Pool Kids’ Christine Goodwyne and Kiwi pop Queen Lorde, with the stage presence of Danielle Haim. 

The curiosity of a half-full room quickly transforms into a crowd of new fans and the glee of witnessing the band’s obvious joy is matched only by their masterstroke of selling scented candles as merch. One note, though – the name “bandles” was RIGHT there. 

With respect to SUDS, this is Spanish Love Songs’ night. The densely-packed crowd is charged with excitement as they take the stage after such a prolonged absence. “We’re back!” says frontman Dylan Slocum, looking lean and – dare we say it – cool as fuck. But this isn’t the same band who left the stage of Kentish Town Forum after supporting The Menzingers in February 2020. Dressed entirely in black – perhaps for the benefit of the professional video cameras capturing the show – it’s not just their image that’s sharper and more coherent. 

Immediately launching into ‘Routine Pain’, the opening track from Pure Noise début ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ and, frankly, one of the best opening tracks of the last ten years, Spanish Love Songs tear through the album’s opening triumvirate, as well as ‘Optimisim (As A Radical Life Choice)’ and ‘Kick’ before Dylan says another word. He doesn’t need to – the band are playing out of their skins tonight and the music says more than a rote line about “the best crowd on the tour” ever could. 

Drummer Ruben Duarte – always the band’s secret weapon – rains down hellfire on his kit as if percussion itself were facing an existential threat. Locked in with Trevor Dietrich’s masterfully melodic bass parts, the rhythm section has never sounded better. But any show is all about the songs, and between ‘Schmaltz’ and the aforementioned follow-up (rough-around-the-edges début ‘Giant Sings The Blues’ can now be considered non-canon), Spanish Love Songs have a two-album catalogue that sounds like a Greatest Hits set. 

‘Haunted’ and ‘Lifers’ from upcoming fourth album ‘No Joy’ already sound like classics, the former seeing Dylan put down his guitar to throw rock star shapes behind the mic stand and the latter featuring the kind of infuriatingly catchy guitar/synth combo riff from guitarist Kyle McAuley and fiercely underrated keyboardist Meredith van Wort that’s becoming the band’s signature sound.

The band play like they’ve been looking forward to this night even more than the crowd and are completely in sync, dominating the stage with a confidence one might not reasonably expect from an act whose most memorable hooks include such gems as “I want to breathe without pacing/I don’t want to be depressed” and “Don’t you know you were born to die poor, man?” 

But if there were any doubt that these hymns to millennial nihilism have found their audience, it’s blown away by crowd singalongs that often threaten to drown out the musicians themselves. Every song, every line, every word echoed back to a notoriously humble band who might finally be realising how much they mean to people.

Ending the set on a one-two punch of ‘Losers’ and ‘Brave Faces’ heartbreaking, life-affirming title track, there are no encores tonight – only the triumphant return of the most exciting rock band your colleagues and parents have never heard of. Welcome back, friends. We’ve missed you.