Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Herzoga/Morning Sparks @ Fat Cat Bar, Hanley. 24th March.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Featuring promoter Wrongpop's alter-ego Steve Clarke on bass, 3-piece Herzoga are one of those bands that just walk on stage and get stuck right in. Exciting and raucous, Steve and his sidekicks Mark and Matt set a cracking pace right from the first crunching note. Using much discordant feedback in his often chaotic solos, guitarist and lead vocalist Matt nonetheless plays with verve and crackling energy as Steve and lively, crisp drumming from Mark provide a gloriously relentless selection of driving rhythms that rarely let up throughout their entire set. In fact, the band members themselves seem almost restrained in their manner, considering the pounding nature of the music. What appeared to be an attempt at harmonies on one number came out as a series of curious 'oo-ing' sounds, but then again, that may well have been their aim, their music having a certain style all of its own. Veteran rockers ZZ Top came loosely to mind a few times during their act; but not in terms of musical content; more in the band's thumping approach to their material. Well-received by the audience, Steve tells me they are due to record a session for Radio 1 later this month. If they play anything like as well as they did tonight, it will be a belter.

Of all the bands I've seen since I started reviewing, Morning Sparks must be the most original and innovative so far. Opening their set with a powerful and abruptly-timed number guaranteed to grab attention, they then proceeded to entertain with a host of strong, well-arranged ideas, intensely powerful drumming and some curiously quirky lyrics. Loud, energetic and ridiculously tight, they are almost Zappa-ish in their more adventurous moments. Changing tack at a drop of a hat, there is just no room for dull moments in any avenue their musically meandering path takes; light country-style picking unexpectedly morphing into crunchingly heavy riffery without warning. Songwriting is obviously a major skill with this outfit; good ideas being in such abundance I would guess there is plenty more where they come from. The whole band boasts a high standard of musicianship and vocalist Chris Russell’s clear, almost theatrical voice suits them well. Including a bouncy instrumental, their playlist is practically one excellent number after another; the penultimate song being my particular favourite, having one of the best refrains I've heard in eons; although I unfortunately didn't get the title. Get to see them while they’re still playing Stoke pubs and clubs. This is a great band and I can see these lads going places at a rate of knots.

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