Pronto Mama, Declan Welsh and the Decadent West, ST MARTiiNS at The Art School, 26/5/17

It’s been a long hot day in May and frankly the atmosphere in tonight’s gig is flustered, intense; like any minute you could light up the audience with one choice spark.

Luckily, the bands on show all know how to work that magic.

First up is Dundee’s ST MARTiiNS, a band who usually sound pretty tropical, a bit sunshine pop, but tonight Mark Johnstone, Katie Lynch and co evoke a certain sultry, zealous atmosphere; maybe it’s just The Art School’s violet-flushed and noirish interiors, but there’s a streak of darkness to their live show that adds its frisson to what shows on record.

Lyrics like “If I could throw away the guilt I feel inside / If I could count the ways / you make me wanna cry” (‘About U’) acquire a heightened fury when performed onstage, owing to Lynch’s impressive vocal delivery, which ranges from the shrill-sweet tones of CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry to undulate low notes that truly mesmerise in a manner not all too dissimilar to Bat for Lashes’ billowing trills.

There’s a level of reverb and volume to ST MARTiiNS’s live-show which allows the jazzier rhythms and lacings of electronica to gain extra prescience, Lynch’s voice weaving a sometimes incomprehensible but always melodic thread through the pulsing and often off-kilter beats.

With catchy winners like ‘Bad Art’ under their belt, those showers of sparkling guitar, Lynch’s almost theatrical voice and the general enthusiasm of every band member’s performance, ST MARTiiNS are certainly ones to watch on the summer circuit.

Their energy offers a necessary warm-up to what comes next, Declan Welsh and the Decadent West; Welsh has been cutting his teeth awhile now in both gig and spoken word environments, and that loquaciously confident, cutting voice brings a grittier edge to the evening.

Musically, Welsh and his band recall early Arctic Monkeys, nailing the sweet spot between melodic guitars, thrashing drums and a vocal delivery that veers between harsh croon and somewhat guttural moments of spoken word, spitting vitriol on the social and political conditions of the times.

Welsh is no mere provocateur, however; he’s a genuinely pissed-off millennial, unafraid to supply a damning commentary on modern life.

An early song in the set references the side-effects of the internet, the hypnotic vacuity of Reddit and meme-culture; lyrics twisted with the biting satire of a Father John Misty song, though without Misty’s honey-drenched vocals to soften the blow.

Songs such as ‘Will’ and ‘Useless’ get the crowd invested and the shadowy venue is almost full already, despite the good weather outside.

Throughout the set, you’re never allowed to forget that Welsh is a Man Who Reads The News, and while the overt political posturing might seem contrived in other situations, you can tell that Welsh means every word he says and frankly, in times like these, the more young people voicing their political frustrations the better–especially when Welsh’s message is one of empathy over division.

Indeed, he precedes his anti-fascist epic, ‘No Pasaran’, with a speech about the need to overcome the scare-mongering tactics of hate coming from both the far-right and the political establishment, his impassioned tones made all the more ominous by a dark under-groan of bass.

When someone in the audience shouts “Theresa May is a cow”, Welsh asks if we can find a less gender-specific insult for the prime minister, before admitting his general agreeance with the man’s opinion; you can tell he thinks his words through thoroughly—in fact, he uses the word ‘deconstruct’ at least twice in the set.

Welsh’s lyrical intelligence doesn’t overshadow the music but rather complements the band’s tight performance and vivid delivery; he gives it his all with a rollicking solo on the penultimate song and the sweat drips off everyone’s face in the room.

While their set has been fraught, angsty and heavy, the Decadent West close on a slower, sexier jam, ‘Do What You Want’, which Welsh admits is all about sexual fluidity; again, politics mixes with the personal and here he does his best Alex Turner impersonation, swaying those snake hips in time to sultry lilts of guitar and lusty croons.

By the time Pronto Mama take to the stage, the crowd are certainly ready for something lively and the whole set is peppered with here we fucking go and Pronto fucking Mama chants.

This isn’t just the woozy enthusiasm of Glaswegians sloshed from a rare day of drinking in the sun, but genuine appreciation for a band whose energised, complex vigour encourages spirited reaction from the audience.

Tonight is the official launch of their debut LP, Any Joy, and as such the majority of the set draws from the lush expanse of this record, opening with the introspective and angst-ridden ‘Bottom Feeder’.

Lyrics like “do you know that nothing’s really real” seduce with their weird hypnosis, before a wall of heavy guitar and drums shock the crowd into roaring shouts, drawing back into quiet with a rhythmic tightness that indicates the band’s five year build to this kind of platform.

With vocals swapped between Marc Rooney and Ciaran McEneny, backed by an impressive flank of synths, brass, percussion, bass, guitar, keys and drums, there’s something of There Will Be Fireworks’ epic sense of multi-instrumentalist harmonics–songs reaching their dark, cathartic grandeur not through sheer noise but the complex, often jazz-like layering of melody and rhythm.

The band switch effortlessly between more guitar-led, indie rock handclap tracks (‘Cold Arab Spring’), to the tenderer melodies of ‘Goose Steps’ and the soulful, catchy jams of ‘All Your Insides’ and ‘Rubber’.

It’s pretty rare to see a band carry off the brass/guitar fusion so deliciously; as an ex-trombonist myself, it was definitely a treat to see the normally humble brass section take a strong lead, layering smoothly soulful textures or emanating slick, funky and off-kilter rhythms.

Lyrically, Pronto Mama take a cue from Scottish indie’s traditional knack for self-deprecating, bittersweet emotional aphorisms and narratives of everyday chaos; but what The Twilight Sad and Admiral Fallow do with often measured and tender abstraction, Pronto Mama nail with eviscerating critique, the sharp twist of satire redeemed by surreal wit and convincing, self-referential delivery: “some cunts get all the birds all the love / get your top-button up man […] are we all such a bunch of creative minds?”

There are more reflective moments, however, on the likes of ‘All Your Insides’, which follows luxurious brass riffs and irresistible hooks, building through pensive lyrics (“your good grace could cause half the world to fall”) which release on a shower of drums and pull back into the assured comfort of its chorus.

After ‘All Your Insides’ draws to a close, Pronto Mama call for a mid-set minute of silence in honour of the recent Manchester terror attack.

Having a minute’s silence mid-gig fells startling and genuinely poignant, with that onslaught of noise and energy suddenly withdrawn into hushed contemplation; it is a lovely gesture and proof that music heals not just as an art form, but for what it does in drawing people together, sharing ideas and emotional experience.

The latter half of the set progresses on similar form to the first, with ‘Arabesque’ perhaps garnering the loudest cheers and quite rightfully so as its sharp, jagged rhythms backed up by catchy licks, sinuous synths and lush percussion have the crowd hung on every word.

Pronto Mama close their set on ‘One Trick Pony’, that swooning love song buoyed up by warm bass and bright guitar, stilling midway to a dreamy rallentando, “but when your tongue touched mine I felt like a balloon / I hadn’t been that high since 2002”, and gradually building back into swinging rock riffs of guitar and brass that shift tempo and go out with a blast.

It isn’t long, however, till the band are summoned back onstage by raucous cheers.

They manage to coax their rowdy audience into silent submission for long enough to deliver a pitch-perfect acapella rendition of ‘Sentiment’, and as this wee harmonic, reflective beauty draws to a close with “I’m done with this / my sweet neurosis I guess / should I try or should I just go get pished” there is a proper shivery moment when everyone draws out of silent awe to sing along with the last words.

The encore finishes with ‘Like Swimming’, a soulfully smooth number drawn from 2014’s Lickety Split EP.

Purring “I love you” in the band’s best Glaswegian tones, ‘Like Swimming’ is a fittingly heartfelt close to a set characterised as much by its tender moments as its rowdier forays into jagged, jazzy and frankly erratic rhythms.

Tonight proves for certain that Pronto have an experimental confidence that is more than adequately matched by the tightness of their sound.

Few bands could pull off the musical gymnastics that they do, but every shift in tempo, key and style is bright, sudden yet seamless: the jump cuts work because everything pulls together; the band ooze synchronicity as much as swagger.

On one of the year’s hottest, most sultry nights so far, it’s this kind of zany, innovative energy that’s needed to keep the senses sharp, but nonetheless never at the cost of musical nuance.

More Photos

Words: Maria Sledmere

Photos: Allan Lewis

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