Tamara Parsons-Baker, Smile, and Gunning for Tamar @ The Wheatsheaf, Oxford

Tamara Parsons-Baker. Pic by Bruce Markos

Tamara Parsons-Baker. Pic by Bruce Markos

First published in Live Music Reviews by

IT IS a miserable, dank and dreary Friday night. I’m thinking “Do I really want to go out tonight?”

Bunny, however, is well up for it. As we haven’t had a night out for - well, hours (possibly days), we shin up to the Wheatsheaf, one of Oxford’s longest serving and stoically dependable music venues to see three acts.

The Rabbit Review is(rabbiting)on.

The evening opens with an acoustic set by Tamara Parsons-Baker, joined by Huck on semi-acoustic guitar.

We’ve only really seen her perform as a part of Huck and the Handsome Fee, so this is largely new material to us.

By the end of the first number, Tamara is sounding strong and confident, reminding me of a sort of “Siouxie Sioux, Unplugged”, while Bunny notes a brightness to her singing that has grown since we last heard her.

By contrast, their second song (Charon’s Boat), is more reminiscent of Curved Air.

There is a certain paranoiac feeling about the lyrics underscored by moody finger-plucked triplets on the guitar.

Their third song (Really Bad Lover) starts the arguments: I hate it, Bunny loves the choppiness of it, thinking it underscores the lyrics (involving cutting, razor blades) rather neatly.

But harmony between the reviewers is restored in the next song: I think it sounds like a trad Irish tune, Bunny agrees that the lyrics are structured like those of a traditional ballad, so we each have an Irish whiskey and call it even.

The set concludes with bluesy, Crossroads-esque finale, which is well received.

My overriding impression was that Tamara’s material would benefit from a full band, and we agree that we may expect good things from Tamara and The Martyrs.

Catch them at their first gig at The Cellar, March 31, supported by JuJu from Little Fish, Samuel Zasada, and Bethany Weimers.

Next up are Smile, a Reading-based band making their first appearance on the Oxford scene.

After a few minor technical hitches (which give them ample time to say ‘Hullo’ to Oxford, several times, in fact), they launch into a set of four original tunes reminiscent of late 90s BritPop with heavily distorted guitars and a touch of Grunge about it.

Solid musicianship is evident throughout the band and the performance, and their final song (the progression of which reminds Bunny nostalgically of an old New Radicals hit) is well received by the crowd, its all good rock fest stuff.

Either we’ve drunk too much by this point or they haven’t been calling the song titles.

Neither of us is sure. But the band are in high spirits (top shelf), and by the end of the gig are torn between finding a late night cocktail venue in Oxford and desperately getting back to Reading before turning into pumpkins.

We left them to consider their options, but regardless, they’re worth a look the next time they’re in Oxford.

The headline act is Gunning for Tamar.

There’s something about the first number that sounds like it’s modelled on a Radiohead break, and as the set progresses it feels like rhythms not unfamiliar to Radiohead, but also like an Indie version of XTC, or very edgy, very early Genesis. (Bunny started choking until I repeated the words “edgy” and “early”, with liberal utterances of “Pete Gabriel”… perhaps I’ll change my mind, he must have misheard).

There are some amazing beats, and loads of competing, interlaced rhythms and time signatures.

You would be forgiven for thinking ‘math rock’, but both Bunny and I feel there’s something derogatory in that term. Bunny reckons Math Rock can come off sounding not clever, but too clever by half.

With GFT (an unfortunate acronym), that’s not the case: it’s not forced, esoteric or contrived.

What’s going on rhythmically is an undercurrent to the song, not the dominant idea.

Bunny is reminded of the liner notes to Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which suggested that a Martian could come to Earth and not find a Jazz record that wasn’t in 2/4 or 4/4 time. Just as I start thinking I’m going to need to get Bunny one of those white jackets with the extra long sleeves that lace up in the back, he persists (or insists), explaining that GFT is perhaps trying with Indie what Time Out was with Jazz by introducing rhythms that aren’t commonly found in a given genre.

It’s good theory, but I’m keeping an eye on him.

Hats off to GFT’s man in the engine room, D’arcy King, who has the unenviable task of keeping everyone in line with his drumming.

Bunny thinks there are shades of Louie Bellson in his performance and starts trying to tell me about this one Duke Ellington 78 he has at home. I need another drink, quickly.

After the set, the Wheatsheaf crowd make their appreciation known, as do we, and so as an encore, the band brings out a new composition, Chocolate Mousse.

The ink is still wet on its pages and they haven’t written the lyrics yet, but it sounds good - a bit like the Cure – and the Wheatsheaf loves it.

Their next Oxford gig is at the O2 Academy, on May 21.

Finally, the people that are usually left out of reviews are crucial for a good night, and they are the sound crew: so a big shout out for Joal, who kept everything running smoothly despite the diversity of the acts.

A good night all round... in spite of the weather.

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