May 21, 2016

That Was The Show That Was: Eagulls | Islington Assembly Hall, London | 19 May

That Was The Show That Was: Eagulls | Islington Assembly Hall, London | 19 May

Hotly tipped UK five Eagulls took the stage at London's Islington Academy Halls Thursday night looking every bit a part of Britain's noteworthy post-punk lineage. Fronter George Mitchell had outfitted his gaunt frame in black slacks and tucked white shirt; sonically, the Leeds-spawned act's performance felt similarly lacking in color. Roughly splitting the set list between 2014's stirring eponymous long player and this year's moodier and more atmospheric Ullages, Eagulls presented various interpretations of the hopelessness peddled by forebears including The Cure some three decades ago. While the Cure comparison intrigues, such comparisons carry expectations, and Eagulls seem to still be working out whether to embrace or elude these expectations as it seeeks its place in the canon.

On opener "Lemontrees," Mr. Mitchell's vocals were a curiosity, and echoed the anguished yelp of Robert Smith. Yet later, when the quintet covered Human League's "Seconds," Mitchell struggled to achieve the expected nuance. Even so, he did make for an engaging focal point, bopping around the stage like a drunkard staggering home from the pub. This did little to distract from a problematic live mix, however. His vocal melodies often rhythmically followed the lead guitar lines, but the sound was so muddy the standout track "Euphoria" was largely indistinguishable from its neighbor on Ullages, "My Life In Rewind." On big choruses, Mitchell sounded overwrought, sometimes jarring. Elsewhere his slurred syllables were as blurred as the grainy visuals projected behind the band.

On its recordings, Eagulls deliver well-honed dynamics, but Thursday the band presented a persistent wall of sound that swallowed up some of the music's depth and texture. At best, the constant chug of guitars -– recalling now and again The Smiths' colossal anthem "How Soon Is Now" –- served to glamorize the despair that is a post-punk band's stock-in-trade, but the lack of dynamics weighed down the performance, particularly as Eagulls hit a succession of mid-tempo tracks mid-set. Tunes from the band's first LP fared much better, particularly the fevered "Yellow Eyes." As Mitchell sang "I can't see it," fans must have been inclined to believe him, as he wended his head around, eyes shut tightly. The rocker "Possessed" from the first LP is an ever-reliable set closer and Thursday night was no different, with Mitchell snarling the title atop guitars that buzzed and shimmered. Its impact on the crowd was clear, and the song's amplified ferocity was a reminder of what a fine live act Eagulls can be when it play to its strengths. Traams and 99 Watts opened. -- Theo Gorst, Special Correspondent

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