Take me to your leader
If the sea of imitation and experimental mediocrity in the local music scene was to be parted at Oppikoppi Easter in Northam, it was not going to be by the parade of meticulously tailored musicians in crotch-numbing pants, all vying for the prize for prettiest-guitar-daddy-can-buy.
There was promise, well choreographed live performances and musical proficiency aplenty. Yet what was lacking is a young urban-contemporary South African band, not derivative, which can articulate its personal musical voice together with an appreciation of its influences.
While bands such as the seven-piece Afro-pop outfit Uju are engaging, they are clearly in their formative stages.
Others, such as The Parlotones, demonstrated in rollicking style why they are so popular at the moment. Simple sing-a-long lyrics and infectious riffs aside, they are also accomplished on stage, but even then, the nods to the swagger of groups such as Franz Ferdinand are just all too obvious.
While Tidal Waves got the crowd grooving, their dalliances with reggae-rock can be a little hackneyed at times. Love Jones were shiny and polished, if a little insubstantial, while Harris Twee(d) performed a delightful set punctuated by the shouts of “We love you Harris” directed at vocalist Cherilyn Macneil from a phalanx of bare-chested Afrikaans Adonises. Perhaps the Afrikaner is more in need of a Dr Ruth than a De la Rey?
There was a leader, though: the incomparable guitarist/songwriter Chris Letcher and his four-piece band. The group admitted to never having played on a stage that big before, yet they commanded it. Letcher’s latest album, the evocative Frieze, is a tender offering on which his insightful songwriting floats in sublime soundscapes enhanced by electronic dabs and doodles.
Live, the band, comprising Dave Webb (drums/ accordion), Andrew Joseph (bass guitar), Ross Richardson (guitar) and Victoria Hume (keyboard/ vocals) fill out their sound and their performance was masterful and extremely tight. Best demonstrated by the classical mythology-referencing Deep Frieze, on which the sharp swerve from increasingly insistent keys, guitars and bass to spatial melody was breathtaking.
Letcher’s songwriting also further exposed the dearth of talent, or perhaps inclination, among young South African artists: fractured ramblings, pseudo-intellectual utterances or dervish shrieking seems, sadly, to be the vocal trend at the moment.
The David Hasselhof Disco Pants Award undoubtedly went to Irish rockers, the Hothouse Flowers. Terribly nice guys they may be, but their set of glitterball-gospel-funk seemed outdated and even less relevant than the big-hair bands who were lathering up their guitars like horny 12-year-olds.
African live music is in fine fettle, the youth-orientated genres just lack vision. Still.