live review ~ pretty circus presents.. ~ live @ the hudson bar, belfast

This week I found myself in the heart of Belfast's underground art-rock scene, in the bustling confines of the obscurely decorated and eclectically finished Hudson Bar. Hidden in the upper floors of this busy local hot-spot lies a tightly compact room filled with wonderfully radical posters urging it's punters to 'Vote JFK', spontaneous graffiti echoing the ever growing German phenomenon of 'I love you, but I have chosen disco' and a relaxed and vibrant vibe which was as prominent in the crowd as it was through it's subtle, admittedly bizarre ambiance. With the stage set and the atmosphere electric, I braced myself for a musical experience quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before...

Just as I began to adapt to the outrageously ostentatious nature of my surroundings the first band of the night took to the stage. Dressed like they had literally just stepped out of the obscure world of the BBC's cult TV show, The Mighty Boosh', it was evident from early on that Belfast's 'Bunny and the Band Its' were a band on a mission. Exactly what that mission was however, was never really elaborated upon. Bunny's unique blend of Rage Against the Machine styled hip-hop, was cleverly infused with distinct rock overtones, much to the delight of their small, but dedicated fan base. You feel that the band's eccentricities, which included amongst other's their bassist sitting with legs crossed throughout proceedings, each member wearing a distinctive mask and a skewered toy rabbit on the end of a spear as a mascot, may not have been so well received in other venues, tonight, however was quite the opposite effect. The audience seemed to embrace every unusual weapon in Bunny's arsenal, their fierce stage presence never in doubt. Despite this it may also prove to be a hindrance for the group, as the gig as a spectacle proved to be more memorable than the musical performance. Highlights of an engaging set came in the shape of 'Open Your Eyes' ('A political song...probably'), which saw the group fire chunks of lettuce into the crowd to a backdrop of eerie, synthesised  bells and well executed riffs. The bands belief in their own songs was infectious, as the audience screamed back every lyric with equal vigor and frustration. At times, the funk filled bass lines passionate backing vocals could be straight out of an early Red Hot Chili Peppers setlist. As they played off their final track, (a Bob Marley and the Wailers styled anthem proclaiming the joys of 'the weed man') you get the feeling that for all of Bunny and the Banned It's bravado and the excitement that generates, they may only be appreciated for the excellent musicians they are if they tone it down a bit. Having said that, perhaps it's the gigs that have inflatable crowd surfing palm tree's and one of the Seven dwarfs on drums that are really worth remembering. This performance shall certainly live long in the memory!

Next on the bill came Lisburn based hard rock three piece, The Runaway Bears. Initially gazing right into the heart of the expectant crowd, when The Bears finally started their distortion heavy set their explosive energy reignited the spark left by Bunny and the Banned Its. As the gig progressed, lead vocalist Nathan 'Brick' Smith's confidence improved, as he began seamlessly controlling the crowd. This came after an earlier mainly instrumentalist period, which, at times, sounded more like an appropriately chosen backing track than the full frontal assault with which Runaway Bears have forged their reputation. Thankfully these guitar driven lulls soon ascended into serenity, as the bands softer, more melodic side came to the surface. Drifting hazily like a 90's Radiohead, it was a stunning and unexpected inclusion that should be more prominent in the future. All in all, it was a tight performance from the Lisburn lads, who never once allowed their dedication to fall below the empowered standards that have won them many admirers to date.

Then came the time for the shows headliner, the refreshingly ambiguous Uncle Social. A band that have shunned the perpetual stereotypes of social networking and instead concentrated on the craft of quality song writing and effortless frontmanship. What's immediate about Uncle Social is that they have a massive sound, jangling guitar riffs and note perfect bass riffs resonating around the tiny venue, giving the audience the opportunity to once again indulge in the energy of a local band in top form. What makes them stand out, however, is there relative calm in the tempest of enthusiasm which surrounds them, they manage to radiate a quiet confidence that cannot be mistaken for ambivalence. It's as engaging as the acts which preceded them, with a minimalist approach that is many ways the antithesis of the venue itself, and yet it worked brilliantly.  Donal Scullion's strong vocal delivery is emotive, yet strikingly raw as the band got the audience jumping with their Biffy Clyro tinged rock. In an atmospheric set, Uncle Social managed to keep the fast paced tempo's momentum going without ever compromising their principles. Finding the perfect balance between languid relaxation and energy, Uncle Social proved a worthy headline act to a show filled with passion, anger and, at times, absolute madness.

Taylor Johnson

Click on the band name below to keep up to date with all their official news/releases.

Bunny & The Banned Its
The Runaway Bears
Uncle Social

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