The Mess Hall have had an extended break from live shows to record their new album For The Birds (out next month) so their show at the intimate Oxford Art Factory was a great opportunity to check out some of the new songs and see where the band is heading.
Daisy Tully opened the night to a sparse early crowed and showed her talents extend beyond playing violin for Bridezilla. As the Oxford Art Factory began to swell in numbers The Holy Soul took to the stage to warm up the crowd with their swampy blues rock.
The Holy Soul have slowly developed their sound into quite an intoxicating beast. They forgo intensity and bombast for a wider spectrum of sound and emotion. The laid back demeanour and smiles between band members shows they enjoy playing their howling garage rock that ranges from accordion tinged stumbles through the undergrowth to soulful incantations like Working On My Soul. Drummer Kate Wilson (also of The Laurels) provides a fine backbone to their headier songs like The River where they show they can keep pace with the likes of The Drones and The Bad Seeds.
The Mess Hall have always been an interesting proposition – how to sustain interest and build enough range into your songs with just guitar, drums and vocals – sure there are many other bands doing the same thing (Black Keys, White Stripes, No Age) but The Mess Hall have progressively shown they are willing to dabble in other textures like disco rhythms and exploring the flexible voice of Jed Kurzel.
Tonight was a chance to blow out the cobwebs with some of the favourites like Keep Walking and Pills and also road test the new tracks. The new songs in particular showed a nice progression into some great grooves and rhythms, incorporating some loops and utilising some different guitar sounds. There were no great detours from the essence of The Mess Hall but they showed that they could well have another great album up their sleeves with For The Birds. First single Bell in particular took on a Beck feel with its late night humid stoner groove – all swirling and sexy with its shuffling back beat.
Often bands debuting new material are met with a neutral crowd response but the OAF punters were kicking up their heels on a friday night and allowed themselves to be swept along on the riffs and Cec Condon’s sharp and sparse drumming. Surprisingly though, the crowd were fairly passive in their appreciation at the end of the main set and when the duo returned they only offered one last song (instead of the planned three) in response to the lacklustre call for an encore. Condon labelled the effort ‘fucking pathetic’ with a cheeky grin; a sign that they expect as much from the audience as they put into their music on stage.