Having caught them play a blinder of a showcase in The Duke of York as part of the wider Output Belfast initiative in February, the promise of an intimate album launch show for exmagician in McHughs Basement tonight is a tantalising prospect – all the more so considering debut LP Scan The Blue seems made for the stage and the snippets offered not more than six weeks ago are still ringing merrily in our ears. And, as we descend into the venue, the intimacy of this show becomes more than just a cursory description. There’s but a metre between us and the stack of equipment upon the makeshift floor-stage. In other words, it looks like we’re in for a loud one.
It’s not long before opening act Waldorf and Cannon breach the background music and it’s a novel little setup they have. A two-piece outfit with a floor-drum kit on the right, snarling bassist on the left and we’re launched into a raucous amalgam of early to mid-career Beastie Boys, The Clash and Sonic Youth. There’s no forgiveness for our ear canals as the duo blast through five or six tracks of intricate bass arrangements, jangling guitars and simultaneous drum exercises that beggars belief given both the latter are being played by one person. A talented pair who’ll no doubt find they’ve made a room-full of new fans this evening.
With whistles whetted, we’re soon engaged with the opening bars of ‘Kiss That Wealth Goodbye’, exmagician’s mission statement from their late 2015 EP of the same name. It’s not the only track to be taken from their debut release that gets a showing tonight, but given that new full-length Scan The Blue features three of its four tracks, it’s unsurprising, but the show is no less ferocious as a result. If anything, the crescendoing guitars and dangerously catchy vocal harmonies set the scene for a performance that quickly becomes one of the standout gigs of the year so far on home soil.
Danny Todd and James Smith make for a formidable pairing it has to be said, engaging in a dynamic swapping of energies – vocals soar and each take it in turn to offer guitar parts that build and pulsate, saturated with acid-rock tones and psychedelic lead lines – ‘Bend With The Wind’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Plan Retrieval’ all stating this case with urgency and vitality. ‘Feet Don’t Fail’ and ‘Smile To The Gallery’ get their outing with typical bombast, but when ‘Job Done’ is dropped, that rhythmic, intensive jangle and marching-beat is unmatched in its execution this evening. It’s powerful stuff, alright.
More laid back with the likes of ‘Wild Eyes’ and ‘Place Your Bets’, the performance far from slows down – guitars replacing synths with the help of a few choice pedals that allow for timbres that climb higher and ever more expansive, interspersed with attentive drum rolls and expressive bass phrasing. ‘Oh Pity’, an older cut, gets extended to an exceptional response from the crowd, and as we venture to a close the realisation sets in that we’ve been treated to special show tonight indeed.
Scan The Blue will see exmagician do well – that’s without doubt – but surrounded by family, friends and fans in Belfast, we’ve witnessed the lads at the beginning of a new chapter in their live careers that, even if carried off with half of the tenacity on display tonight, will still ensure a rabid following wherever they go. Whelan’s, you’re in for a treat on Tuesday. Aaron Drain
Photos by Ruth Kelly