Live review: John Knox Sex Club, Will Hanson, The Mademoiselle at The Wise Monkey, 17/3/12

This is my first time ever in The Wise Monkey, despite the fact that I’ve lived pretty close to it for several years and pass it all the time.

Inside it’s certainly unorthodox as venues go, what with its awkward dog-leg shape and clunky pillars in unhelpful places, but it somehow works.

Throughout the evening the clientele is an eclectic and constantly changing mixture of lads, slightly effeminate studenty types and painfully “hip” people; facial hair, statement fringes and fashionable eye/headwear abound.

I arrive halfway through The Mademoiselle’s first song, which is being played before a healthy-sized crowd.

Theirs is a swaggering and consciously dirty sound.

Their brand of pretention-free, predominantly bass-driven rock is at times strongly reminiscent of both Queens of the Stone Age and Nirvana.

The undercurrents of frustration and resentment that permeate through songs like ‘Warebitch From Hell’ would be lost without the virtuosic talent of The Mademoiselle’s three members.

All of them demonstrate not just considerable ability but also flair throughout as they expertly negotiate compelling arrangements full of angular inflections and other interesting quirks, many of them achieved via the intelligent use of effects.

The hearty applause dies and after a short recess a lone gentleman takes to the stage, electro-acoustic guitar in hand, and starts performing what appears to be a somewhat extravagant sound-check; only it’s not.

I had wondered, as I sat marvelling at the gorgeous sound, just how amazing the set itself might be if the preliminaries were this exquisite.

Having now done my homework I can semi-confidently assert that Will Hanson in fact ran the stunning and totally instrumental ‘Home’ (currently featured on the trailer for the forthcoming film ‘On the Road’ – an adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel), straight into ‘Black Lungs’, with captivating results.

Hanson announces early that he plans to “take things down before John Knox Sex Club.”

Unfortunately, as his set goes on, the chatter of the audience starves his handsome music of the quiet it requires somewhat.

What’s more, it often appears that he is fighting a losing battle with audio feedback.

Elbows oot! The place really fills up and the temperature rises sharply as headliners John Knox Sex Club appear and begin their atmospheric and highly intense set.

The unearthly chanting and wild gesticulations of singer Sean Cumming reflect his reputation as the focal point of the band’s live performances.

Getting in people’s faces and even hugging audience members at one point, he spends the majority of the set closer to the crowd than his bandmates.

Those in the front few rows are entranced by the ebb and flow of JKSC’s inimitable style- swinging violently between periods of agonisingly tense, ambient space and eruptions of frenetic activity.

This effect is amplified by the visual spectacle of Cumming’s bewitching theatrics.

In the context, the ghoulish red hue of the bizarre shadows cast upon on the venue’s low ceiling above the performance area seems all the more fitting.

Several audience members know all the words to every song.

Others don’t but soon begin chanting along with the vocal hooks that typify much of JKSC’s music.

JKSC are well able to reproduce the quality of their studio recordings when playing live.

This speaks volumes as to the innate understanding its members clearly share, a quality rendered all the more impressive by the fact that their complex and unique sound leaves little room for error.

Words: Neale McDonald

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