Gignorance: For Breakfast + Secret Tongues & Elêphant – Birthdays, London – 27/3/17

Tonight is an impromptu Gignorance: with nothing to do on a Monday, a free gig it is.

I’m late (but so is the line-up) and I kick off with Elêphant, a band who take Beatles-style songwriting, blend it Tame Impala’s psych and scuzz it all together with garage rock riffs. Clearly ready for the big time, they’ve got the stage presence nailed and are well rehearsed. My only fault is that they seem a little too song-by-numbers, clearly able to take their heroes and add them to the pot but without the crucial skill of twisting it into something distinctly Elêphant.

Second band Secret Tongues suffer from this problem a little too, but not at all to the same extent. An enthusiastic performance sees them emulating The White Stripes, though with a female vocalist bravely belting out with gusto, repeatedly asking for her mic to be turned up. Here, the stage theatrics risk derailing the entire performance but the band skilfully just about hold on. The hollow nature of their songs doesn’t really translate live from the record as well as you’d hope, given the potential early demos suggested. They’re a young band and immensely popular so they’ll go far without a doubt, but as the performance concludes, it’s not clear why they’ve gotten so much attention so far.

After a quick Facebook check, it’s clear that For Breakfast are a far smaller band than any of the others that they’ve towering over as headliners this evening. Despite running almost half an hour late (meaning the band take to the stage at 10:45), Birthdays seems busy. When the band commence their post-rock onslaught, it’s absolutely obvious why.

Without any music online, and with limited publicity, any preconceived ideas would have been guesswork. The appearance of a flugelhorn confounds even further. However, as it turns out, For Breakfast pair the meandering bass lines of Tortoise with the threat of Swans but easily bring something implacably unique to their performance. Whilst their influences are happy to take a convoluted route to a song’s crescendo, For Breakfast have a direct intensity and a melodic dexterity. They manipulate textures and bend noise to their will, matching heavier material with delicate moments. The vocalist, short and shaven, lets her spoken word lyrics tumble and surge from her lips with a steely glare into the front row. The set culminates in a closer which sees a fourth guitar added to the existing three, and the quartet let a cascade of gorgeous, mathy patterns pour from the sound system. The music becomes tangible as if the dense waves of sound have taken on tactile qualities and threaten to drown the pulsing audience. Any hint of ominous stage presence is shed between songs, referencing Peep Show and casually mistaking their setlist, and there’s room for improvement with the stage patter. Whilst no-one could fault their tight musical performance, for a band as young as this one, there’s work to do elsewhere. But there’s method in the promoter’s madness: of course they’re headlining. Where else would they be?