On a dark side-street in Liverpool city centre, between the crumbling Victorian warehouse buildings, there is a garden. It’s quite an unexpected find, but then again this is quite an unusual garden.
A tentative step through the garden gate reveals an array of bunting, flowers and fairy lights that festoon the stage that awaits the protagonists of this review: 6-piece Wirral band, By The Sea.
Before then, however, out in the open is a large and unusually wide range of clientele; from hipsters and haircuts to hippies, the place is rammed. The cut of the cloth betrays the fact that it’s the kind of crowd that’s kept both Oxfam and Top Shop afloat during the recession.
As the smell of incense fleetingly drifts along on the wind, the crowd assemble around strategically placed garden furniture whilst girls with painted faces actually sell tie-dye T-shirts from a stall. It’s almost a Glastonbury parody, compressed into a back yard-sized bottle of bohemia. Shadow puppet projections courtesy of art troupe Mr Wolf Collective entertain the hordes until it’s time to turn on the amps.
A little later than expected, By The Sea take to the stage. With little by the way of introduction, they race into their set with blistering, skyscraping guitars and hushed, whispered vocals. For a band oft-labelled as ‘Dreampop’, rather than simply blissed-out ambiance, there is more of a definite pop sensibility to their songs – noticeable from the very first track.
However, as is often the way at gigs on this level of the circuit, there are a few initial technical difficulties and creases to iron out before the lads fully hit their stride with a rendition of ‘Dream Waters‘ – its relaxed intro lulling the listener into a false sense of security before its pounding rhythms and Robin Guthrie-esque chorus effects sweep the song along briskly.
A feature found on many of By The Sea’s songs is Liam Power’s vocal gymnastics: “Ohs”, “oohs” and “aahs” abound. Live, the vocals are less drenched in reverb as they are on recordings, and at times can be a little wayward and ramshackle (most likely due to PA system and equipment inadequacies) but somehow it works. Just when things sometimes seem to be on the verge of falling apart, the band lock together and kick on as tight as can be.
With the vocals being slightly indiscernible and in-between song patter generally kept to a minimum (save for a dedication to debut album producer and ex-Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones), song titles are not forthcoming. However, the penultimate track of the night is the highlight of the set. Rumbling tom tom drums are attacked by crystalline guitars that cut the song like a scimitar, and when Power calls the chorus hook of “I saw you go”, dancing breaks out in the crowd. Shoegaze it ain’t. The 12 string chimes of set finale ‘Waltz Away‘ condenses into layers of colliding reverb tails, bringing a most-welcome cacophony to a not-so-welcome close.
This was a solid performance from By The Sea in a rather strange but enjoyable environment. There are certainly improvements to be made, but that will come with experience and isn’t that far off.
One thing is for certain, By The Sea won’t let their simply music wash over you, it demands your complete and undying attention.