Monkey Swallows the Universe / Persil / Jennie and the Bets

Head of Steam, Newcastle on Tue 13th Feb 2007

Hand on heart time - I simply adore the Head Of Steam; it's fantastically tiny, it's underground, and they have real ale on tap. Oh, and it consistently plays host to some of the best small gigs in town, and tonight is no exception. No wonder it is becoming the favourite haunt for the young and the tuned in of Newcastle.

Opening act Jennie and the Bets are wonderful. They play saccharine sweet pop songs with an edge you could never have imagined. 'The La La La Song' is a shining example of this, with it's understated feel and gentle sway barely hiding the barbed attack on a former partner by frontwoman Jennie. 'Too Much' is a song surely designed to elicit illicit desire, the irony being that it is a song about resisting temptation.

Dutch noiseniks Persil are up next, and they couldn't clash more with the opening act. Europop beats beneath grunge guitars and Bjork-meets-eurovision vocals give a highly schizophrenic feel to this set, which can't help but raise a smile. Whilst this strange mixture is enthralling and enjoyable, it never really grips you, and by the end of the set I was left feeling strangely unsatisfied.

Monkey Swallows The Universe are nothing if not intriguing. Sporting a name designed to give nothing away apart from a highly irreverent sense of humour, an onstage demeanour which is so charming it would make Keane seem abrasive, and a clutch of songs taken straight from the drawer marked 'perfect pop', surely there is no way this lot can possibly fail. It's a shame then, when fates conspire tonight to ensure that their sound is hampered by some highly inconvenient technical issues involving dodgy cable and some very nasty noises. However, as in the cliché, the show does indeed go on, albeit after a slight delay.

The band open with 'Martin', an ode to self-loathing and relationships which depend on it. They are clearly suffering from an attack of nerves after almost having to call the show off, and this appears to affect the performance in the early stages. Vocalist Nat Johnson is the most visibly shaken, but this serves the purpose of getting the crowd on her side immediately. It doesn’t take long for her to regain her composure though, and as the show goes on, Johnson’s voice continues to improve. Bearing much similarity with the likes of Etta James and Billie Holiday, the soulful, almost jazz vocals envelop you and it is easy to get lost in Johnson’s voice.

Recent album 'The Bright Carvings' is a gorgeous, summery pop record, and we are treated to most of it tonight. The real joy of the music is the humour embedded in the lyrics - in 'Sheffield Shanty' for example, the gorgeous Johnson lulls us into a beautifully crafted, lilting piece, the story of which is the tale of her becoming a pirate during a particularly heavy rain storm. It displays a blissful kind of innocence that only a highly skilled songwriter can pull off without sounding crass and clumsy.

It is a shame that technical issues hampered the show tonight, as Monkey Swallows The Universe have the potential to be outstanding. As it was, they played a very impressive show in difficult circumstances, and simply for soldiering on they should be applauded. I was told after the show that they will be playing live again soon, and I would recommend you see them, and I certainly will be.

article by: Tommy Jackson

published: 18/02/2007 02:24


sorry, we currently have no gigs listed for this act.