The Young Knives can’t catch a break. The trio from Leicestershire, England aren’t getting the press that some UK bands receive, but they were set to play two high-profile gigs before SXSW, sharing the bill with the the View (at Luna Lounge) and the Bird and the Bee (Mercury Lounge). Dreaded visa issues forced them to cancel, and makeup shows were scheduled, but let’s just say the bands they got to play with left something to be desired.
But both shows were great, low turnout or not. What the band lack in easily digestible sounds, and NME-cover style, they make up for in energy and wit. The harmonies are a bit odd, and the riffs are more angular than other bands, but the Young Knives have plenty of hooks. Anyone who likes Wire or the Jam or Gang of Four (Andy Gill produced their album) will certainly like them — though they are less retro-sounding than other, more popular bands who claim the same influences.
Guitarist Henry Hartnol did most of the singing, though bassist House of Lords (aka Henry’s brother Thomas) did his fare share too, as well as providing the funniest moments. The singles from new album Voices of Animals and Men ("Weekends and Bleak Days," "She’s Attracted To," "The Decision," and "Here Comes the Rumor Mill") were obvious highlights, though new song "Fit for You" was maybe their best yet, and will surely end up as an A-side at some point. It may even chart.
Tuesday’s show at Luna Lounge didn’t seem to have any opening act at all, which made the $14 cover (what it was when they were playing with The View) seem extra steep. And walking into the giant space to find about 20 people there was disheartening. But more people filtered in — probably about 60 or so — just in time to catch the band…
…except it wasn’t the Young Knives. It was an opening band, unannounced, unlisted. They were from Philadelphia and mumbled their name before they launched into their set. How to describe them? A potent combination of horrible and ridiculously loud, like Greg Duli fronting a talentless bar band who nonetheless thought they were the shit. And in the Luna Lounge, there is nowhere to escape the noise, which is something I fear will be a fatal mistake for the club. The sales of ear plugs during this band’s set will probably hold as a record for some time. When the show was over, I asked around as to who they were, so I could avoid seeing them in the future. Nobody could tell me the name, not even the Young Knives manager, or Rob, the owner of Luna Lounge.* In fairness, the group did loan the Young Knives their instruments, so you have to give them credit for that. But seriously, they were bad.
The Mercury Lounge show was better all around. They played the same night as iPod commercial stars, the Fratellis, but it was a separate show, so you couldn’t just stick around and see the Young Knives. You had to exit the club, stand around till they let you back in, and then pay again. Kind of weak. There was a band before YKs, this synth glam thing called Unisex Salon. I spent most of the time trying to determine whether they were serious or not. The singer, covered in rediculous tattoos, looked like Jared Leto with a porn beard who learned all his dance moves from watching the Billy Squire "Rock Me Tonight" video. It was kinda like Hedwig minus the
hooks, or something out of the The Apple.
Then when the Young Knives took stage, to a nice crowd, but the show was somewhat undermined by a group of drunk, too cool for school idiots under the left speaker. Mainly it was one dude in sunglasses (hiding a massive shiner) who kept having his bros take pictures of him (drinking his beer) watching the band. In between songs they would shout a bunch of dumb shit, and kept buying the band rounds of Yager that they obviously didn’t want. "Sorry everyone. We need to stop the show so we can get drunk with this man," Henry Hartnol said after the first one. His brother added, "Cheers. I feel funny and can’t remember the notes anymore."
My friend Heather and I wondered if we were just old and cranky or if these guys were just douches. We settled on the latter.
Voices of Animals and Men is out now, and comes with a bonus DVD of live performances and music videos. Highly recommended.
*I found out later the name of the opening band at the Luna Lounge show: Curtis Helldiver. You have been warned.