Johnny Foreigner, Y’all Is Fantasy Island, Jesus H Foxx @ Henry’s Cellar Bar, 23 Jan

Johnny Foreigner

It doesn’t say much for the Edinburgh music scene when three certifiably up-and-coming bands – two Scottish, one Brummie – share a bill and the sole attendees consist of band members, assorted hangers-on and a handful of paying punters. But on the other hand, this is one of the smallest performance spaces in town, so at least it’s actually possible to see what’s going down for once.

Jesus H. Foxx are a band in the ascendency. Last time I saw them they performed a passable though hardly inspiring garage rock set. This time round they might as well be Jesus H. Foxx Mark II – more honed, more together, more confident, more original, more percussive (they’ve hired a second drummer, see). The first three songs in particular are staggeringly assured, the skeletal guitars and anti-harmonic, shouty vocals a superb counterpoint to the almost tribal, jam-session-like drumming. It would be a big ask for any band to maintain such a standard however, and some of the vitality does dwindle towards the end of their set.

Transformation is a bit of a theme tonight. Y’all Is Fantasy Island have replaced their bassist and are testing new material to boot. This is the third or fourth time I’ve seen them, and it has to be said that with tonight’s performance some of their former dynamism has dissipated. Last time at Henry’s they blew me away with their visceral playing and possessed-by-the-music passion, but not quite so tonight. Make no mistake: in Adam Stafford they have at their core one of Scotland’s rawest, most captivating lyricists, a natural heir to the crown of fellow Falkirk-ite Malcolm Middleton. And YiFi’s versatility is as impressive as ever – from grungy folk to splintering feedback to pained self-scrutiny – but there’s just some intangible element lacking on this occasion. Chemistry, dynamics, even just wrongly balanced sound levels… who knows?

One band with no shortage of chemistry is Johnny Foreigner, a Birmingham trio who’ve been drawing some seriously hyperbolic praise from music hacks down south – though have yet to infiltrate the public consciousness if ticket sales are anything to go by. As live performers they warrant their headline status with schizoid energy (the singer’s floppy fringe morphs from a fluffy bouffant to a sweaty mess before our eyes – see, transformation theme continues!), masterful musicianship (the drummer sets up looped keyboard sequences before launching into another 180bpm rhythm) and genuine charm (the female bassist ribs her male bandmates for moaning about having to carry her amp). It’s difficult to imagine listening to their noise-core stylings in any other setting than a dark basement bar, but if this is the eccentric, hyper-speed path indie pop is headed (think Foals, These New Puritans etc), then Johnny Foreigner are in exactly the right place at the right time. They even throw in a well-executed Pavement cover, as if to prove themselves to the more ‘mature’ audience members.

Kudos to the I Fly Spitfires folks for another fine night of music.

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