LIVE: Yonaka @ Signature Brew, Haggerston

By Dave Stewart

We went to a gig. A real life actual live performance. Not one where you have to click a link in your inbox and make sure your laptop has enough charge left in it, one where you turn up to an actual venue, go inside it and stand among other people. One where you can drink beer and potentially spill it on somebody else because you’re in close proximity, not sat at a table trying to stay in your social bubble. What better place to go to experience this slither of normality than the intimate and sweaty Signature Brew venue in Haggerston, and what better band to watch than Brighton’s fast-rising alt-pop quartet Yonaka?

Having released their ‘Seize The Power’ mixtape the preceding week, this gig served two purposes for the band. First and foremost, this gig was their first indoor show without any restrictions in place since 2019; an event in itself. Secondly, it was their mixtape release show, and it happened exactly when it was supposed to. Not delayed by the pandemic, not rescheduled because of lockdown – the mixtape dropped and they celebrated its release in due time. Both the crowd and the band were raring to go, and the venue was almost pulsing with anticipation. There was no way in hell that this was going to be a bad night.

With hands full of beer, including a fruity limited edition brew that the band had cooked up that sold out well before the lights went down, one thing was blatantly clear – everyone in this room had been waiting for this moment for far too long. Appearing on stage one by one, the final addition of front woman Theresa Jarvis caused the room to erupt, and soon as the opening line of ‘Seize The Power’ was underway, it was as though we’d never been deprived of this. Effortlessly getting back to business with tight musicianship and captivating presence, Jarvis and co conducted the crowd into a bellowing chorus of voices that almost drowned out the sound system with their volume. This was just one song in; there was an entire evening ahead.

The live debut of ‘Clique’ almost started a rampage. Jarvis’ commanding screams of “get the fuck out my face” rattled all the ribcages in proximity, with bodies flying and moshing into one another for two and a half minutes of unadulterated escapism. The absence of Fever 333’s Jason Butler didn’t affect the punch whatsoever; Jarvis held her own and powerfully delivered his collaboration, much to everyone’s delight. ‘Raise Your Glass’ saw everyone do exactly that, arms waving and drinks sloshing as everyone in the venue celebrated the moment. The wild performance of ‘Creature’ was as chaotic as it was beautiful, ‘Punch Bag’ oozed with potent swagger, the infectious vibes of ‘Rockstar’ enticed everyone in earshot into mass singalong – they didn’t put a foot wrong the whole night.

It’s incredibly hard to pick out highlights when the reel is pure gold from front to back. From the empowering ‘Call Me A Saint’ to the furious ‘Teach Me How To Fight’, the gigantic and punchy ‘Ordinary’ to the riot-inducing set-closing masterstroke ‘F.W.T.B’, the whole evening flew by far too quickly. The band, who had been full throttle for around an hour, were visibly humbled to be back doing what they loved and didn’t want the night to end. If anyone in attendance had any say in it we’d all still be at the gig now, watching them play the set over and over again as we all clung to every morsel of energy they would’ve undoubtedly continued to emit. It was the welcome back to live music that everybody needed.

From the moment Yonaka took the stage to the moment they reluctantly left it, the entire venue was full to the brim of adrenaline, spilt booze, beaming grins and pure adoration. It was the release that everyone had been waiting for, and there couldn’t have been a better band to encourage and nourish it into a tidal wave of catharsis. They were almost as overwhelmed with emotion as their onlookers, and their blatant joy and appreciation to be back on stage was impossible to not feed off of. Not only that but they were every bit as fierce and energetic as they always have been, seemingly running on a never-ending supply of gasoline that allowed them to keep their intensity at absolute maximum for their full set.

Yonaka gave the lucky few that were able to attend an incredible evening that felt like a vivid dream, providing every single person in the room with the escape they’d been craving for a year and a half. Live music is back, and so are they. Here’s to plenty more celebrations to come.


Photo credit: Ed Norton