live review ~ stonemasons 'lost layers' ep launch ~ hidden machine ~ feat. sea monkey see, small hawk orchestral, salad boyz

Tonight Encore NI found ourselves in Belfast's Voodoo for another full line-up of riffs, distortion and heavy rock courtesy of Hidden Machine. The reason? The launch of Stonemason's newest EP, 'Lost Layers', a menacing record rarely pausing to let the sun in; with that in mind, there could be few other venues as suitable as Voodoo's sweat box surroundings...
Opening with the exhilarating "Loud Crowd Wowed", Salad Boyz, (a band so new, this was only their third ever gig) set the tone for the night early on, with dirty riffs and blistering drumming on the agenda. Just as you thought you had them all figured out however, they throw in new tracks "Dreams" and "T-4-2", and it's here they really draw you in. Weezer like melodies intertwine beautifully with lead guitarist Simon Gilbert's bubble-grunge hooks, creating something really quite moving, yet still maintaining that rougher edge encapsulated by their front man, Tommy Haghighi. Tonight he seems to feel every lyric, moving around the stage like a man possessed, and the crowd love it. A dynamic performance from a young band really capturing the spirit of mid 90's American indie. 
The brilliantly named Small Hawk Orchestral followed, another young band with a growing reputation. They are by far the loudest band to take to the stage tonight, (no easy task on a bill with Stonemasons) and they sound very focused here. The bands angular riffs and doom laden chorus' feel like they may burst out of the confines of the venue, so strong is the bass , so heavy the breakdowns. America's Sea Monkey See then take things in an entirely new direction, their math- rock compositions and weird time signatures intriguing the audience. Throughout they remain polite and witty, even throwing in some Spanish introductions for good measure in between songs. Though it's clear who the crowd are here to see and as Stonemason's take to the stage the venue again grows very loud.
Photo credit; Matthew Johnston Photography

Looking calm and composed, you can immediately tell the crowd is Stonemason's for the taking tonight. Coming fresh from the studio, it's much of this new material that makes up the set and with good reason too. It's unashamedly brash alt-rock and you can tell they are really into it.

For all their raucous abandon, it's 'Onwards, Upwards, To Air, To Light' which really sticks out, a delicate song showcasing the bands quiet-loud dynamics brilliantly. 'This is so new I was finishing the lyrics last night...' remarks front man Connor McCann, though it's hard to believe him as the song slowly fades from it's mammoth chorus. 'Dying Is Easy, Growing Is Hard's Pearl Jam like riffs get the audience jumping too, but the real highlight comes in 'How To Fix Everything' the new EP's closing track with one of the best singalong outro's you're likely to hear this year. Blast 106's charismatic DJ Phil Murphy even jumps on stage, grabbing bassist Pádraig Kerr's mic and leading the impromptu choir. It's a tender moment and one deserving of this hard working three piece. 
As preparations for a European tour go, few must feel better than this. 
Taylor Johnson

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