After releasing perhaps the most underrated album of the year back in March, LA rockers Mini Mansions peer out of the smoke in the middle of a brief jaunt across the United Kingdom.
Formed by Zach Dawes, Tyler Parkford and Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman, they’ve released a pair of records in the down time from other projects, but tonight’s show makes a compelling case for making this their A-game for the time being.
First though it’s up to locals Featherwest to guide us through a short set of stripped back electronic rock.
The trio of Ivona Glowinska (synth and vocals), Melanie Dutton (drums) and Ryan Denton (guitar and synth) mix minimal, scratchy guitar with flexible rhythms and repetitive, hypnotic Nico vocals.
The tunes are nicely arranged, making the most of the trio’s limited array of instruments, but there’s a noticeable lack of energy compared to the rough and ready spirit of tonight’s headliners.
The Great Pretenders is not a long record so tonight Mini Mansions augment their setlist with a handful of tracks from their self-titled debut, as well as a couple of choice covers.
Sparks’ ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is given an angry makeover, while Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ becomes a half-time stomp with an equally menacing snarl.
Their own material tends to split between crunching alt rock and kaleidoscopic psych-pop songs; like MGMT left out in the sun too long.
Before catching them live, one might think from his high profile background that this was Shuman’s band, but on stage all three musicians huddle along the front of stage with Parkford taking the majority of the lead vocals and Dawes stalking the platform on bass.
Shuman drums stood up like the Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker, occasionally switching to electric guitar for a few brief frenzied bursts before plugging back into his kit again
The track that benefits the most from being rendered in a live setting is ‘Mirror Mountain’, an unabashed slice of electro pop wired through with a stone age riff while the jaunty ‘Freakout’ and the psychedelic ‘Any Emotions’ channel ELO and chief psych pranksters The Flaming Lips.
Ending with a low key encore of ‘Magik Marker’, the band themselves are not quite all smiles.
Whether this is a display of California cool or the sign of a band pushing themselves to the limit night after night we may never know, but in this city at least Mini Mansions have proved they can walk the walk.
Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Derek Robertson