Gig Review: (Sandy) Alex G – Islington Assembly Hall – 05/09/18

“Deus Per Omina” are the words inscribed upon the coat of arms adorned above the stage of North London’s Art Deco, grade II listed music venue. The Latin words translate to “God pervades all things”, and while I’m not sure whichever almighty you choose to submit to has to do with tonight’s show, it still imparts itself to be a fitting sentiment for the evening. Long labeled as a pusher of indie lo-fi rock, Alexander Giannascoli, better known as (Sandy) Alex G makes the trip over the pond and proves himself not only as one of the finest songwriters of an increasingly important indie scene, but also a proficient hawker of a multitude of genres, pervading the evenings performance with genres as wide spanning from Country Folk, to Math Rock, with a brief jaunt into the realm of free jazz thrown in for good measure.

After a long summer spent under various tarpaulin, grass underfoot and supping from tepid cans of intoxicating liquids it feels good to back under a roof and ready for the start of gig season proper. Kicking off the evening are Brighton based five-piece, Porridge Radio. Building on their increasingly regular appearances on the UK DIY scene, the frenetically raw punks provide an injection of energy into the gradually leavening crowd. Their performance appears raw and unconstrained, their songs have an air of spontaneity and uninhibited excitement, and precociously witty and cutting lyrics are chanted and quipped with razor sharp delivery. During the brief interlude, Rough Trade DJs are entrusted with stoking the ambience of the room and must have done a reasonable job as in what feels like no time at all, Sorry have taken to the stage, and introduced themselves with an unassuming “hello”. The band have experienced a period in the spotlight in recent months, having recently signed to Domino Records and boasting a membership card to the exclusive south London scene alongside Shame and Goat Girl, both who have enjoyed breakout success earlier in the year.

It’s a hometown show for the North London band and they certainly waste no time in getting things started. They open their set with the first single to garner a full-scale release in 2017. With slowly meandering duelling guitars, the methodical jangle of ‘Washed’ arrives almost as a punched up version of Interpol’s synonymous debut record. Before the phrenic discordance is augmented with lead singer Asha Lorenz’ characteristically introspective vocals, and capably supported by the input of lead guitarist Louis O’ Bryen’s voice. Disappointingly the influence of electronics present towards the end of the tracks recording seems to be omitted from the performance, or perhaps it failed to cut through their live set. ’Showgirl’ is a standout moment and arrives towards the close of their set. Sarcastically awkward vocals belt out into the assembly hall, declaring that “life is just like the movies”, a scathing review of how it feels to live in our social media-driven society. The squalling guitar tone that answers Lorenz’ proclamation that “you don’t even know girl” is a thing of beauty, punchy and melodic and successfully gets the crowd moving, before ‘Lies’ closes the set with a dark and brooding presence. It seems like a more personal delivery by Lorenz’ as she seems to break ranks from the icy persona adopted by the rest of the people on stage. During this particular performance at least, musically, Sorry seem to be most at home in their heavier moments. Both vocalists give their most convincing and appealing performances whilst belting out their lyrics at the audience. The same is true for the rhythm section with a better balance being struck between the bass guitar and drummer, creating moments of rhythmic brilliance.  Taken as a whole this heaviness produces a more synergetic relationship that becomes apparent on stage, it produces a certifiably engaging groove alongside providing a head clatteringly bombastic weight to their music. This penchant for heaviness is also perhaps further outlined by the fact they seem to get a little lost during the softer, more tender instrumental moments of their set potentially extenuated by their relative youth and or the pitfalls of live sound. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable set, but perhaps more pertinently it’s clear to see why they have garnered so much support. While it’s clear that it’s part of their schtick to not give too much away in interviews, opting to focus purely on the music and this also comes across during the live set as they hurriedly clear their presence off stage, going out as they came in, and announcing their departure with an unassuming “thank you”. This apparent coldness alongside moments of standout brilliance arriving unevenly throughout the set, it feels like the performance fell short of winning over the vast majority in the crowd, and suggests the four pieces aren’t quite the finished article yet.

In perhaps what is the most significant moment of ‘you didn’t know you needed this until now’ since the Black Friday Sales. The elusive, much-revered musician, who made a name for himself self-releasing his bedroom recording projects through band camp entered the stage soundtracked by the seminal millennium banger that is ‘Rock DJ’ by Robbie Williams. “I’ve heard that song is huge over here” he greets the crowd with, as a huge cheer erupts without a hint of irony. Despite his rise to prominence following a less than orthodox path, his live performances have been a more traditional and slow rise to prominence. It’s his largest UK headline show to date, and the room is impressively full, progressing from playing shows to comparably smaller crowds across the UK indie scene. Giannascoli now has two full album’s under his belt, alongside an impressive back catalogue of recordings and he wastes no time in delivering a sprawling career-spanning performance.

The band introduce their set with an oldie, digging all the way back to 2010. ‘Remember’ sees Alex at his most vulnerable, introspectively repeating the lonely plea “please don’t help me”. It’s a gentle way to introduce the crowd to his brand of lo-fi country, alt-folk, Slint inspired grunge, and it certainly goes down a treat. ‘Forever’ immediately follows, and it’s clear to see they’re wasting no time, seemingly intent on cramming as much of the impressive catalogue into the evening as possible. The pensive frontman of just a song ago seems to be growing in confidence and the first appearance of his clenched mouth gritted teeth snarl creates a pained, claustrophobic vocal against the backdrop of alluring guitar melodies. We’re onto the third song at this point, and another taken from the 2015 album, ‘Trick’. ‘Kute’ provides the first opportunity of the night for the drummer to utilise the unusually high crash symbol, causing a strained attack of reverberating symbol work to ring out over the unconventional drone of Alex’s now decidedly more grungier vocal. ‘Proud’ delivers the first sing-along moment of the night, as phones are thrust into the air the capture the performance of material taken from the most recent and potentially most renowned material. The country folk vocal twang complimented with slide guitar shows the band really hitting their stride in performing songs taken from the most recent album, ‘Rocket’. Alex and the band are still hellbent on the deliverance of songs at full tilt, barely taking a breath between songs or taking time to address the eager crowd. After a relatively hushed approach on the first section of songs performed, the band significantly up the ante.

The vocals are becoming angrier, more intense and increasingly emotive. Influences of pioneering alternative bands of the 90s such as Slint and Sunny Day Real Estate are creeping into the set,  the crowd can’t help but respond to this new found musical indignation, as what can only be described as a gentle mosh spreads throughout the previously studious London crowd. ‘Poison Root’ allows the band to showcase themselves at full strength, the four-piece emit their full potential of indie-folk alternative grunge, tinged with early emo insights, with Alex at the helm. It’s a prime example of what makes (Sandy) Alex G so appealing, the ability to transcend the constraints of one particular genre and instead reject tradition to produce whatever the clearly talented Alex Giannascoli is compelled to write. It’s around this point that Alex makes his way over to the formerly vacant keyboard. What may seem like a move to a more mellow and understated close to the set, what occurs is anything but. The band slip into a loose jam, provoked by Alex’s idiosyncratic twinkling on the keys, which is broken by the mercurially dynamic eruption of ‘Brick’, sending those in the middle section of the crowd thrashing into a communal rhapsody of flailing limbs and disorderly figures. As well as the crowd revelling in the occasion, it’s clear that the band are enjoying themselves, exchanging several wry smiles with one another as they transmit their well-received songs throughout the venue. “This is our last song” states Giannascoli, “before playing an encore for you guys” he adds with a mischevious smile. For the encore, the band don’t even take time to leave the stage, instead they ask fans to shout out their song requests and the band will play them. A cacophony of requests are bellowed from the masses and the first to be selected by the few on stage is ‘After Ur Gone’.

Unfortunately, the charm of this format quickly wears off as any form of momentum that the band had accrued seems to dwindle amongst the ramshackle co-created genesis of the subsequent setlist. After a few requested songs, the band are informed that they have more time left to perform and appears that they vastly underestimated the amount of time they had left to fill. It results in a sprawling 27 song, mammoth setlist and towards the end ultimately proves to be a bit more for the resultantly dwindling crowds. Overall, in moments it was pure excellence, towards the end it felt a little directionless. The meandering end only imparts a slight mark to what is otherwise a triumphant show for the band, and if anything it should serve to be a testament to the prolific back catalogue of (Sandy) Alex G and dedication to be able to reproduce a large chunk of it live. Besides, what I’m more perplexed about is, why did no one shout out a request for a cover of ‘Rock DJ’?