As I was making my way to my first gig at the Belgrave Music Hall (Yes I know, it’s bad of me, it’s one of those iconic Leeds’ venues) I was musing about It being a long time since I last saw The Elephant Trees – November 2017 at Kazoopa Festival to be exact, so basically two whole years ago – and sadly I’ve really only been keeping a rather lazy ear out for them. Two years is a long time, time enough for a band to change, and boy have The Elephant Trees changed. But before the full impact of quite how much they’ve changed I had three support acts to see. Let’s get into this shall we?
Sadly I missed the first part of Gloria’s set, I’d guess around a third. This was a great pity. What they do is cool. As I went to get my usual non-alcoholic drink (you can’t drink and handle an indefeasibly large camera at the same time) the band launched into a mash-up which featured at least one part ‘How Many More Times’. Brave choice I thought, and then, oh wow nice one. I helps that they feature two guitarists (I think, sorry if I’m wrong), a singer who has a fab voice, and who occasionally plays a floor tom. Sound wise I kinda had them pegged as playing vaguely 70s style songs, they have that feel to them.
The short experience I had of Gloria really didn’t give me a real lasting impression, I did however make a mental note to catch them again. That short impression was enough to do that, the songs, the playing rocked people.
Next on stage were 100 Fables. Listening to them I got this overall impression of something of a 80s’ electro feel. And there’s all sorts of that kind of thing – sometimes they do dark-ish synth pop, sometimes it’s sort of pop-rock, sometimes it’s that full on synth led pop ballad thing. It’s just I can be strange about 80s influenced music, and I’m not that keen on big synth led pop songs (of which there’s a couple in their set). Sometimes it just leaves me cold, probably a ‘been there, got the t-shirt’ thing.
People, as you might have worked out, this isn’t the sort of thing I usually like but they sort of won me over. Partially it’s the vocals – the vocals were stunning, partially it’s the what my notes call ‘the driving beat’ and partially it’s because this band put on a show. They pull themselves inside out to put on a show. And at least a small part of it was that some of their stuff reminded me of a band I liked in the 80s called Pride of Passion. They did kinda pop-rock or rock-pop sounding music. Strange that I liked them, they were not my usual sort of band then at all for then.
The impression I’ve given, and I’m sorry, is that I was completely won over, I wasn’t. Some of what they did I really liked, some not so much. But the spark of liking them is there, and if I get to see them again I’ll probably be raving about them. And what I can be definite about is that this is band who know their stuff, the vocals were fantastic, the playing way cool and the show was brilliant. If electro/rocky pop/synth pop is your thing go see 100 Fables OK.
Seeing Artio was a wonderful surprise, in my usual ‘bad gig reviewer’ style I had failed to notice who the support bands were until the afternoon of the gig day. Given that I was suffering from Artio withdrawal symptoms them playing was good thing, a very good thing.
I was, predictably as you might have worked out, captivated by Hol’s vocals right away. And that was it I was swept away by Artio’s songs. Yes, they do big synth songs but they’re not as simple as that might imply. Their music is full of wonderful touches that raise it above ‘mere synth pop’. And yes, I know a lot of their music is pre-programmed but the addition of live guitar and bass (on some songs) make it organic and live. Add in Hol’s voice and you have something wonderful.
And the other thing to really like about Artio is that they write songs about important things – notably that night they played a new song that is about ‘protecting our NHS and our planet’, ‘basically it tells Boris Johnson to f**k off’ as Hol succinctly put it. And this is a band who walk the walk as well as talking the talk, they’d spent the afternoon and played at the environmental protest, they buy old t-shirts to print band t-shirts, they mean the things they write and sing about.
The thing is that they have me reeling at how good they are, and also at the fact that I like the music they make so much – it really isn’t my sort of thing at all. But somehow they won me over from the first time I ever heard their music. And yep I was worried that the live experience would be a let down the first time I saw them play live, or that it would just sound like they do on recorded stuff, but no this is band who bring something extra and different to the music when they play live. Mainly I think it’s the vocals, but it isn’t just those, there are other things I just can’t quite put my finger on. Their set that night was equally as impressive as the first time of seeing them live.
If you’ve not seen Artio play live, go see them, go see them as soon as you can, they’re brilliant.
The Elephant Trees have changed, they’ve changed a lot. OK so I’m going to admit that if I’d been keeping a closer eye on them I might have known this much much earlier, much much earlier. But for me, bearing in mind the last time I saw them live was two years ago, and haven’t really given much time to playing any of their recent releases, it came as somewhat of a surprise, a really great surprise.
If like me you haven’t been keeping up, The Elephant Trees have turned into a madcap rock band who play around with kinda hip-hop beats, and at the same stripped down to Martha on vocals, acoustic and keyboards, a guitarist and a drummer.
I say rock although that’s not exactly true, some of the new stuff is kinda big synth pop-rock sounding, But the thing is that the songs just go anywhere – unexpected crazy drum based beats or way out there guitar.
The thing that remains the same is Martha’s vocals – and yes while she uses that rap singing type vocal style that featured in some of the old songs rather more, her voice is still fab. And you still can’t take your eyes off her, she’s a brilliant front-person. And the interplay between the three band members is exciting, exciting and electrifying.
This being a homecoming gig, the night had a special atmosphere, friends and family of the band were very much in evidence. You could feel it in the room people. Martha announced ‘an old song’ and started ‘Monster’ only to be joined by the crowd almost before she actually started singing. Oh wow that was special, and her surprise at this was a great thing to see. Given that this was my fav old song this was fantastic.
The new songs rock people, given that for me it was basically the first time I’d heard them. They’re inventive and played incredibly well. I wish I’d been keeping more of an ear out for the band than I have over the last two years. So changed are The Elephant Trees that seeing them that night was almost like seeing a band for the first time, and I was completely won over by the band. Musically it’s brilliant and visually the set was fantastic.
The set ended with Martha making her way down into the crowd and singing unamplified with her guitar. She sang a beautiful song and some of the crowd joined in, magic. And at the end the three band members hugged. It was all very special and rather emotional.
If you’ve not seen The Elephant Trees for ages like me, go see them. They are fabulous.
All photos on this page © Frank Roper Photography – see more from this gig on his Facebook Page