Twas’ a mish mash of an evening, I’ll give you that….combine circus, acrobatics, ska, funk, gypsy, soul, jazz and 'deep jungle' and you're nearly there!
I am of course referring to a standard Friday evenings entertainment that took place at the ‘Phoenix’ in Exeter, people came in various styles of dress, East End ‘Hipster’ with skinny jeans, suede boots and braces, circus costumes, many looking like they were somehow involved in the show but didn’t perform, maybe they just like dressing up and letting their hair down for the evening?
We were invited a long while back to come along and see a band called Molotov Jukebox (referred to as MJ from now on), I must be honest and say that I had not heard of them before and decided to seek further information prior to confirming our attendance. It was when I saw a picture of the lead singer (Natalia Tena), I am SURE I had seen her somewhere before….I just couldn’t think where. It wasn’t until the PR manager advised that she had been in Game of Thrones and a few Harry Potter movies that the penny dropped. Armed with this information, we arrived in Exeter and prepared ourselves for the evening ahead.
The stage times were:
9:30 Crinkle Cuts
11:00 Chainska Brassica
12:00 Molotov Jukebox
01:00 Freear (DJ Set)
As usual, I arrived at the venue for 7:30 and was surprised to see the above, I was driving so it wasn’t as if I could spend a couple of hours in the bar. Instead, I pulled up some information about all the acts set to play and had a read.
Crinkle Cuts are an 8 piece Bristol based act that had just struck up and we wandered into the main auditorium to check them out, pleasantly surprised was my initial reaction, this soon rose to a much higher state of appreciation as they were excellent, they just….worked.
The band were made up of the staple instruments as well as a stonking horn section which blended well with the rest of the band. I would liken them to a large funk/soul stew made up of the finest cuts of the Chili Peppers, early Jamiroquai, classic ska and reggae with a dash of pure insanity. They looked like they were having so much fun and the crowd were lapping it up. The drummer had a glint of madness in his eyes but was SO good, tighter than a gnats chuff, so much so you could have set your watch by him. The singer was dressed in a dapper two piece blue fitted suit with a sweet trilby, it looked pink (may have been the lights) even so, he looked cool!
I think the band may take offence at my next comment but we couldn’t help noticing that the guitarist looked like a young Chuck Norris, again, maybe just the light but we were adamant it WAS Chuck and had a great time thinking of classic movies that he had starred in over the years.
If you need a band to get the party started, these are the guys to do it. From a few people bobbing their heads when they started to the whole room jumping along to their fabulous funked up version of ‘Chocolate Salty Balls’ by 'Chef' (South Park) at the end was a real moment to be savoured and set the bar very high for the next act to follow….
Up next was Boundary, unsure who/what these were but between 10:30 and 11:00 there were no bands on stage, just some background music which was largely overshadowed by the insane bass coming from the cafe bar area that was strong enough to loosen most folks fillings! I swear after paying a trip to the loo, I came back into the auditorium feeling shaken up, it was that intense (maybe I’m just not ‘street’ anymore, more ‘cul-de-sac’!).
There were some superb acrobatics going on in the main auditorium, 5-6 people climbing up vertical rope type thingies and twirling, posing and falling (safely) up and down them whilst the bands were performing, maybe this was ‘Boundary’, I cannot be 100% sure, kudos to them though, they demonstrated some real jaw dropping moves and added to the overall mystique of the evening.
Next to take to the stage were Chainska Brassica, this is a 9 piece ska-fuelled, energetic reggae and dub band from South East London who have really perfected their craft. Their setup was more geared to a traditional ska band, being heavy on the horns and included a bongo player.
These guys soon got the room shaking again and towards the end of their set, everyone was skanking along to the sound of ‘Ghost Town’, a classic track made famous by The Specials way back in 1981.
They ended on a high note with a track called ‘Riot’ which again, had the crowd leaping about like teenagers after 3 cans of SKOL lager until the very last notes had been struck. A true professional act that have graced the stages of Glastonbury, Bestival and The Secret Garden Party, long may they continue to excite and ignite the passion in their audiences for many years to come.
The stage was emptied and new equipment bought on by burly looking roadies, this time NOT dressed up as lions or trapeze artists, it was time for the headline act of the evening to take to the stage and to do what they do best. Natalia Tena was instantly recognisable and if I may say so, looked rather splendid in her pink/yellow dress combo (nothing pervy going on here, I am simply stating that she looked ‘nice’….) After a few minutes of trying to catch the attention of the sound engineer to kill the background music, she resorted to asking if it was okay for them to start playing, the background music quickly died and they were off….
Described as ‘Gyp-Step’, MJ consists of 6 members combining ska/rock/folk/Samba/Swing and dubstep, this band are adamant not to be pigeonholed! They sounded great, laying down a solid sonic platform for Natalia’s sultry vocals to effortlessly float over, she’s a dab hand on the accordion too, something you don’t see so much of these days.
The acrobats continued to ply their wares whilst MJ were playing, entertaining the crowd and also the band, I happened to catch the eye of the trumpet player just as a very lithe female performed the splits halfway up the ‘rope’, by the look on his face, Christmas had come early….
MJ has clearly gained a healthy following both in person and via their social network (Facebook count is 109k), the entire front row appeared to be singing along which is so nice to see.
Natalia took a few moments to tell people about their new album ‘Carnival Flower’ (available now via iTunes/Amazon) which I should add has 8 of the 11 tracks marked as ‘explicit’, the saucy buggars!
They managed to keep the place bouncing until they left the stage to huge applause. A few minutes passed and they took to the stage again, only to be advised that they were running late and the last act (DJ Freear), was to carry on from there. Whilst not on the same scale as the Springsteen/McCartney incident at Hyde Park a couple of years ago where the power was pulled midway through the last track, it would have been nice to get them back on the stage for one more song, but, as they say, good things come to those who wait….
It would be so easy for the band to use Natalia’s name to carry them, it is clear to see that they don’t need to and have neither done this in the past, the band are strong enough to stand on their own 12 feet and gain an impressive fanbase as a result.
We look forward to our next outing to see MJ and hope that the travelling circus follows them to wherever this may be…..next time, we’ll be sure to don face paint, wear ornate head dresses and may even try climbing the ropes to perform in front of the crowd, it surely can’t be THAT difficult!
Review by Steve Muscutt
All Photographs by Julian Baird
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