Live performances are always indicative of how well bands structure their songs, how much craft has gone into each track and whether they have managed to assess and balance the various musical components successfully. This is no truer than in the lo-fi fuzz/grunge rock Cheatahs exhibit, where the barrage of distortion, drums and spacey vocals requires that spark to ignite it before it disperses into a bland, lifeless smog. An acute hook or intensified progression often does the trick, with Yuck an example of a more recent band who have largely realised this in their compositions. Cheatahs debut LP, released earlier this year, walked the tightrope between the two, and seemed to come off the better for it. Their performance this evening would be telling of whether they are really worth the accolade as part of the ‘grunge-pop revival’ they have been attributed.
First support act are always treated with an air of trepidation, and so Henry Pulp and the Sons certainly didn’t disappoint as opposed to passing the time for the eager few assembled. Sweet, rumbling verses graced our ears, accompanied by authoritative vocals and a film projected onto the barrier in front of the band, which made for an interesting performance and a sense of admiration towards the group for trying to do something a bit different. There was a noted lack of engagement, as the tracks tended to simmer, and simmer, and keep on simmering without ever sticking its flag in the summit promised by the ascent. Nonetheless, Henry Pulp and Sons warmed the eardrums of those gathered sufficiently, and showed a certain amount of potential for times to come.
If first support is cut a bit of slack, second support you normally hope to provide the next step on the climb up to our headline act. If this was the case with The Rise of General Mezmar however, we were on a musical journey of which the culmination was back down our metaphorical musical mountain, through the crust and out the other side, emerging somewhere off the east coast of New Zealand. The band played with a lack of a genuine sense of direction as they performed repetitive progressions and seemed to have run out of ideas after one song. Occasionally they would explode into an aimless solo of sorts, with the most exciting moment that of a stale jam towards the beginning of the set while the lead guitarist replaced a broken string. It was wearying to watch and listen to, and by the end of the performance you could have hummed the next track before they had finished their previous. Anticipation for Cheatahs was growing, not necessarily due to the excitement felt amongst the ebbing crowd, but rather due to the fact it would mean The Rise of General Mezmar could retire and spend some time coming up with a new riff.
With the crowd slightly disconcerted after our previous act, Cheatahs set the tone straight from the off with an avalanche of distortion and distant vocals. From the seismic punches of ‘Get Tight’ to the streaking hooks on ‘The Swan,’ Cheatahs offered a sense of adventure and expansive ambition which neither of their supports were able to come close to. They finally gave the audience a reason to perk up and remember why they decided to spend their Wednesday night at the Arts Club after all. Performing in a cloud of smoke, they raced from one track to the next, tirelessly bombarding the crowd with tracks from their recently released LP. At times the hooks were lost amidst the sea of instrumentation, and the relentless barrage of sound on occasion slowly strangled the life from some of the songs, but it was an authoritative and affirming performance which meant Cheatahs left the stage having left their own stamp on the Arts Club. The multi-national quartet came good when we needed them too, and ensured no one left without at least a degree of satisfaction.
Tonight was not the gig you wanted to spend time reflecting on. You wanted to leave it on the high which Cheatahs were able to induce and refrain from returning to the melee of musical misplacement featured earlier on. It was an evening of experience for sure, with the paradox between the bands highlighting the way live music exposes groups for their substance as a musical outfit. Thankfully, our hosts left us with the surety that they most certainly have the sustenance to take it even further, and that they really do deserve to be counted as one of today’s most exciting grunge-pop bands.