Ordinarily when a core member exits a band, the dynamics completely fuck up, with the band rarely reaching their former glory again, almost always fading away with a comeback 10 years later, or desperately gracing the cover of some shitty UK tabloid with their tell-all drug story or crack baby pregnancy. So when vocalist Claudia Deheza announced her mysterious departure from the School of Seven Bells in 2010, I braced myself for their inevitable downfall. My fears were fuelled even further by the fact that Claudia and remaining member Alejandra are twins, and the precedent set by Oasis shows that familial disputes are by far the messiest. Releasing the token ‘show will go on’ defiance album earlier this year, I wasn’t really expecting the same level of shoegaze satisfaction that Alpinisms provided or the mystic rush from Disconnect from Desire. However, to my surprise and delight, Ghostory shattered all my preconceived notions. The nine-tracker gloriously maintained their signature ‘nu-gaze’ quirks with an added sonic boom that resonated deep. More than impressed by their thriving tenacity, I was bubbling with curious excitement to see the remaining Bells do their thing at the Hi Fi last Friday night.
Dressed not to impress but rather to stay warm against the bone-biting cold, I arrived at the Hi Fi and inconspicuously loitered in a dark corner, hoping no one would notice that I dressed up my trackies with a leather jacket. By the time first support Melodie Nelson started playing, all fashion faux-pas were forgotten, and like a greedy cartoon blindly following the inviting aromas of a freshly baked pie, I was drawn in by the seductive harmonies and bluesy sensuality of lead vocalist Lia Tsamoglou. Their set had a distinct soundtrack vibe, inciting the old-school glamour of James Bond and suspense of a Quentin Tarantino classic. Whilst I enjoyed, Melodie Nelson’s lush offerings, I was left feeling a little woozy, and I’m not sure they were the most appropriate support to invigorate the crowd.
Luckily second act Little Scout managed to snap me out of my hazy daze with their indie folk jams. To be honest, the band’s recorded versions have failed to captivate me. Whilst pleasant enough, they lack originality. Having said this, their live version compensated gumption that the recorded rendition lacked. The difference lay in the percussions, which beamed energy and formed a solid backbone to their delicate vocals. Worth particular mention was latest single Go Quietly, which deceptively unfolded with angelic ‘woo’s’ that quickly u-turned with punchy drums and an attitude-driven bassline. It’s clear that Little Scout has immense potential, and hearing these Brissy kids live has definitely planted them in a firm position on my radar.
Whilst the transition time between Little Scout and SVIIB was running on schedule, the wait reminded me just how freezing it was, longing my desire to be distracted from the bitter cold. So when The School of Seven Bells jumped head first into their glitchy instrumental intro, the pure satisfaction of it all warmed my senses. Contrasting her barely there frame with an elaborately embellished necklace and Cleopatra bob, Alejandra Deheza’s presence emanated as she belted out the catchy Iamundernodisguise, complimented by the psychedelic guitar stylings of fellow band veteran Benjamin Curtis. From thereon in, the Bells indulged in an hour-long set that showcased the best from Ghostory, with some familiar favourites from Alpinisms and Disconnect From Desire.
It pains me to say that overall SVIIB were very hit and miss as a result of a sound imbalance. The percussions dominated, compromising the vocals, and as a whole they failed to revive Curtis’s brilliant production value heard on the albums. For gutsier numbers, including The Night, Bye Bye Bye, Lafaye, Scavenger, White Wind and Low Times, this disparity was minimised as the booming drums and shrill guitar riffs enhanced the grungier edge portrayed in the live version. However, for low tempo tracks, including Windstorm, Love Play, White Elephant Coat and ILU, Deheza’s vocals failed to shine.
Despite this setback, the eclectic crowd ate it up. For final number My Cabal, the audience was cast under some kind of shoegaze spell, with interpretive dance moves occurring all around me. Coming back for an encore, the Bells delivered with the dreamy Half Asleep and experimental Sempiternal/Amaranth. Judging by the enthusiastic vigour in which the small, yet dedicated, audience cut a rug, I daresay they were left satisfied.