The JCQ, Let’s Talk Daggers & We’ll Die Smiling – The Old Blue Last [18/06/2013]

By Tom Aylott

Album release shows always create a celebratory atmosphere, and tonight proves no exception. The JCQ (now pared down to the acronym of their unwieldy previous name, The James Cleaver Quintet) are promoting the release of their second album “Mechanical Young”, following on from 2011 debut “That Was Then, This Is Now” – but more on them later. The first of two bands currently on tour together, Leeds’ We’ll Die Smiling are the first to take the stage, and, while all the bands tonight are of a post-hardcore bent, the trio are by far the most emotive group on display. They possess the nerve-jangling intensity of acts such as La Dispute, particularly in their vocals, crossed with the old-school screamo vibes of Holy Roar Records labelmates such as Maths and Crocus. Although consistently captivating throughout their set, WDS seem forced onto a bill they don’t quite belong on, like a square peg into a round-hole, which may be why their set translates poorly to the early-arriving revellers. In an environment more complimentary to their style, a performance like We’ll Die Smiling’s might be one for the annals.

Tangled Talk Records’ Let’s Talk Daggers are currently touring “Fantastic Contraption” (alongside We’ll Die Smiling), which represents a complete overhaul of material from their previous two EPs, with lyrics, structure and style all subject to change. The makeover has seen the band shift into a different gear, and if the bombastic vibes of tracks like “#1 Spicy Bugger” are anything to go by, has made them a more potent force than ever before. The East Sussex three-piece are a delight to behold, particularly bassist Jim Francis – the man simply cannot stand still for a millisecond, leaping about like an E-numbers-addled kid let loose on a bouncy castle. The new material showcased sees them retain their rampant approach with added proggier moments – think The Dillinger Escape Plan meets latter-day Rolo Tomassi. A set like theirs naturally sets tongues wagging, and I overhear a comment referring to them as “the new Blakfish” – “Champions” still retains an enduring cult appeal, and considering the quality of material they have thus far, they have every chance of grasping that mantle.

Finally, headliners The JCQ close the night in exceptional style. The Eastbourne five-piece (augmented in the live arena by keyboard player/percussionist Charlie) have built up a deserved reputation for an astonishing live show, but somehow, they’ve got even better. Tracks from aforementioned previous record “TWT, TIN” sound better than ever – whereas before they were more about full-frontal, eardrum-obliterating assault, they have reinvigorated songs like “Sink or Swim” with a new-found exuberance and panache. “Mechanical Young” is a truly superb accomplishment, and sounds just as stunning live – they combine the eclectic approach of Faith No More with the grooves of Head Automatica, with a hint of the psychedelia of acts like Portugal. The Man or The Mars Volta. “Ghosts Diffuse”, the curtain-raiser on the album, opens proceedings and announces The JCQ of 2013 emphatically. “Love’s No Good”, a track the band are due to make a video for soon, is packed with (to coin a phrase from a WWE tag team) tons of funk, and “Aspidistra” threatens to blow the roof off this East London pub, such is its stratospheric aspirations. Vocalist Jack Saunders has come into his own as a focal point of the band – he always carried a swagger in his step, but tonight he is sublime, his crooning tenor soaring. To date, their career has shown glimmers of potential, but this show (and it is, first and foremost, a show), proves they are primed and ready to explode onto a wider stage. The packed Old Blue Last is filled at the end with fans and converts baying for “one more song”, but rest assured, there is plenty more to come from The JCQ.