‘These days my friends aren't who they used to be/We were all sinners and drunks but now they're too mature for me/Because Mike's on daytime radio/John played Reading & Leeds/And I'm still play the Purple Turtle at New Year's Eve'...’
The opening verse of Deaf Havana’s latest albums, Fools And Worthless Liars sums up a lot about their band. Ambition, drive and hints at a dark and bitter past run through their lyrics and aggressive musical delivery. One gets the impression that they are stupendously frustrated with the situation they find themselves in, loved by many but yet still on the edge of true pop punk stardom, watching their friends ascend to enviable heights.
Perhaps they should be less hard on themselves. Leeds Metropolitan University is a sizeable venue, not much smaller than some of the venues they played last year in support of You Me At Six. Tonights gig is entirely sold out, young girls pressing to the barrier and waiting patiently throughout two support bands to see their heroes. They don’t care that this is a university. And they especially don’t care that the sound quality in the room is beyond awful.
The excellent Canterbury suffer a shaky start at the hands of the room’s acoustics, shaving the normally razor sharp edges off of their brand of ‘sweet rock’. It creates a strange barrier in the crowd – the first eight rows are going mental but everyone behind is left scratching their heads, wondering why they can barely hear the vocal. It’s a sight that prompts Mike Sparks to break his rock posturing to sheepishly remark that ‘actually, the crowd in Coventry last night were a lot better.’ It’s a little like watching a lion rip a wildebeest in half on telly, but with the sound turned down to 50% - the adrenaline is obvious but you just don’t get the full experience.
Heavy In The Day highlights Saviour and Gloria save the situation somewhat, the rousing choruses breaking through the wall of fuzz to get the crowd singing but it’s a little too late in a setlist that relies a little too much on newer material for a support slot. Here’s hoping they return to the north soon with a headline tour, a fuller setlist and some smaller, better sounding venues.
The sound issues that stole Canterbury’s thunder appear to be resolved when Deaf Havana take to the stage. They open with an odd mariachi-esque version of The Past Six Years that doesn’t sit well with me at all considering how much I love the acoustic version, but it kicks the crowd into action, propelling them through note perfect renditions of I Will Try and Little White Lies.
This is when it all begins to fall apart. It’s obvious for everyone to see that this is the tightest they have ever sounded musically, contending with such a squat room to produce the kind of sound that justifies their opening slot at Reading and Leeds this summer. But it’s winter, the perils of touring life has struck and put simply, James Veck-Gilodi is simply too sick to sing.
He puts on a brave face initially, inviting the crowd to sing to compensate for his voicelessness, but when he talks between songs it’s obvious that he is in pain, rapidly descending into a weak, croaky shell of his usual self. He looks visibly upset, thanking the crowd repetitively for sticking with ‘the hardest gig of my life’. It's horribly frustrating to watch, and doesn’t do a lot to put faith into the rest of the tour considering this is only the second night. The sound guys attempt the motherly act of putting his mike up, but the feedback that occurs is one step too far, the buzz lingering throughout the rest of the set, encouraging tinnitus as band, audience and sound engineers look at each other in discomfort.
They are indeed sick, they are probably tired. And deciding to continue this gig in such a state instead of cancelling may well be a foolish move. But they are certainly not worthless. In fact, vocals notwithstanding, tonights performance was a vast improvement on Leeds fest, and a completely different band to the one I saw support You Me At Six. Perhaps, ironically, if they start pushing themselves a little less, they might find themselves becoming the band that they want to be.