Hands Off Gretel celebrated the release of their second album, I Want the World with two sold-out shows. One in North London venue Nambucca on Thursday 28th March and a second the following day at the Old School House in Barnsley. It was the former which I attended and thoroughly enjoyed.
The night kicked off with fellow South Yorkshire band We Are One, who play a type of metal-tinged rock blended with rap. They were an interesting proposition, albeit one that proved to be something of a mixed bag. One thing which was immediately apparent was how cohesive they are as a unit. They executed their breakdowns impeccably and were undeniably tight. Their drummer was also a highlight, providing an excellent backdrop for their sound.
A number of their songs favoured an anthemic call and response structure and they did manage to get the audience fairly involved with this. That’s not always an easy task for an opening band. Midway through the set, they played a strange hybrid of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Get away’ and Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself.’ While this was admittedly a novel combination, it didn’t really work for me and felt somewhat incongruous dropped in among the surrounding songs. Overall their set was pretty well received by the audience and they played it with palpable enthusiasm.
There is no shortage of self-belief in the We Are One camp. The crowd were informed in no uncertain terms that they are going to blow up this year. However, whether such assertions should be viewed more as chutzpah or hubris remains to be seen.
Second to take to the stage were Brighton five-piece PussyLiquor. They were without their regular drummer on this occasion but were very ably supported by the stand in. Although he did keep a beanie on for an inordinately long amount of time given how hot the crowded venue was.
PussyLiquor wasted no time in getting going and their upbeat stage presence was infectious. You get the feeling they really enjoy what they’re doing and genuinely like each others company. They are a band with a number of serious points to make and they do so forcefully but without it feeling preachy or overly didactic. Musically they’re rooted in a punk and Riot Girl sensibility, with all the rawness and attitude that suggests. However, they have a keen ear for melody and are especially strong with regards to the vocal interplay between lead and backing parts.
One of the high points in the set was the irreverent ‘Lady Wank’, which is a fine example of the aforementioned group singing dynamic. However, when questioned on their personal preferences in this regard the audience remained shtum. Another standout track was a new one which I didn’t catch the name of that tackled the issue of rampant consumerism. It managed to weave the Aqua song ‘Barbie Girl’ into it’s sharply observed critique, creating an interesting juxtaposition. They rounded off their set with a real sing-along number dedicated to the hardworking exponents of the conservative party, aptly titled ‘C.U.N.T.’ It was a punchy end to a strong set.
By the time Hands off Gretel took to the stage the crowd was heaving and Nambucca was very warm and bristling with excitement. Front-woman Lauren Tate informed the crowd of how nervous she had been prior to coming on stage. Not that you would have noticed as the band played with real brio from start to finish. Tate’s demeanour may be slightly self-deprecating in between songs but when they are being played she projects an aura of confidence and assuredness.
They opened up with a heavier number before moving on to lighter tracks. The setlist was well judged, the slightly slower numbers were alternated with more full throttle ones which allowed for variation while never losing energy. Tate’s vocals have huge power in their delivery, switching effortlessly between clean, measured enunciation and guttural grunge-tinged roar.
The band’s tracks are an intriguing blend of amped-up freneticism, mixed with more introspective quietude and catchy, almost poppy at times hooks. The songs cover a range of topics but there is a strong emphasis on inclusivity and overcoming the trials and tribulations of feeling different or outcast. An idea exemplified by the track ‘Freaks Like Us’, which is a slower number on the topic of treading your own path and being scorned for doing so. Their version of ‘My Friend Said’ was also a good showcase for their more downtempo register. Another standout track was ‘Milk’, which really demonstrated the chops of their bassist Becky.
The audience were clearly buzzing and at one point a couple of members of the crowd even did the worm, which was entertaining and not a usual precursor to a mosh pit. As the night drew to a close there was a somewhat deconstructed encore. ‘Kiss Me Girl’, which is a real humdinger of a track that calls to mind The Distillers went down a storm. As did the closer, a raucous version of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. With the final huddle of moshing fans disentangled and heading out, Hands Off Gretel had comfortably shown why they have a reputation as a formidable live act.
All the bands hung around after the gig, chatting to fans and signing merch. Incidentally, we later found out that the I Want The World record glows when under a UV light. Hands Off Gretel are at the top of their game at the moment and it feels as if they are on the cusp of blowing up. If they keep playing gigs like this then there’s every reason to think that 2019 could be a huge year for them.
You can keep up to date with the band and buy a copy of the album here: https://www.handsoffgretel.co.uk/
Photos courtesy of Koichi Miyashiro