Gig Review: The Cactus Channel & Sam Cromack @ The Howler featuring Frida and New Venusians

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The Cactus Channel‘s most recent release, a collaborative EP with Ball Park Music frontman, and My Own Pet Radio mastermind Sam Cromack dropped last month, and to celebrate, the band and Sam are travelling to three of our major cities to perform the EP’s six soulful tracks, sprinkled in with some other extra surprises. For the first stop on the tour, the band performed on their home turf at Brunswick’s Howler. Supported by two spectacularly soulful bands, Frida and New Venusians, it seemed that the night was going to be an expressive, and funky expedition for all in attendance.

The evening began with one-third of the six-piece band, Frida, presumably named after Frida Kahlo, performing a painfully exposed ballad. The solitary and mostly unaccompanied howls from lead-woman Eilish Gilligan pierced through the slowly filling band-room. Eventually, more and more members took to the stage, and the bare ballad morphed into brash and brazen funk tunes. It should be mentioned that The Cactus Channel and Frida share some of its members, and by that the guitarists, drummer and bassist of Frida play the same role in The Cactus Channel. Because of this, Frida had a similar soulfulness and spirit that is heightened by Gilligan’s haunting vocal glissandos, and her far reaching vocal intensities. In one particularly energetic number, Gilligan leant on the keyboard in front of her, using her full body strength to perform her remarkably impassioned vocals. Lewis, The Cactus Channel‘s guitarist and new-found lead singer (a point which will be discussed later) also sung lead-vocals on the track “Fences”, who sings with just as much nuance, but favoured subtlety which added a great contrast to the set. Incorporating a tranquil mixture of synth sounds and boundless guitar tones into their danceable sound, many of the audience members were dancing to the embarrassment of their mates. Frida were a delight of varying emotive peaks and crevices, that set a fantastic precedent for the continuing evening.

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As the Howler bandroom was injected with a soulful warmth that a steaming butter knife would struggle to cut, the appropriately titled, due to their interstellar knack for soul, New Venusians took to the stage to, somehow, heighten this soulful energy. Much like Frida, vocal responsibilities were shared between Meklit Kibret and Christian Hemara, and both vocalists brought their own unique vocal energy and input. Kibret had a much more understated performance, with her falsetto vocals dipping in-between the synths’ sustained chords, and accented, attacking guitar chords. Hemara, however, was anything other than understated. His vocals were a highlight on perhaps the sexiest, and the most romantic song of the night, “I Wanna”. With the sex appeal of a Marvin Gaye album, this slow-burning, “lights-on-low” ballad was undeniably charming and intimate. Sounding akin to Frank Ocean, Hemara had incredible vocal range, starting at low whispers and ending loud falsetto shrieks. Hemara’s stage confidence was also thrilling, as he gripped the microphone in one hand while signalling the audience to come right up to the front of the stage. If Frida had a more jazzy perspective on soul, New Venusians took a more R’n’B-like detour. Other tender moments came from songs like “Sea” and “Keep Running” where Kibret and Hemara balanced their vocals together to create wonderful, dulcet harmonies. Hypnotising guitar solos, and an incredible, synth sounding bass solo complimented the fantastic vocal work. With an incredible musical range, one song turned into an explosive and face-melting psychedelic rock jam which added an interesting edge to the set.  It should also be said that the mood of each song was perfectly summarised in the entrancing projections shown behind the band. If one song had a slightly more temperamental, unpredictable quality to it, the projections showed trippy images of stormy weather, or if a song felt more dreamy, the projections showed edited images of the night sky. New Venusian‘s set was completely soothing yet imposingly energetic and, much like Frida, are a band to look out for.

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As New Venusians’ set came to a close, Ball Park Music and Cactus Channel fans alike congregated at the front stage to hear the Do It For Nothing EP, played in full. As The Cactus Channel made their way on stage, their set opened with two instrumental numbers without Sam Cromack. Performing with two guitars, bass, drums and two saxophones, a tenor and baritone, the band has an incredible energy and tightness together, which only bands that perform for more than a decade together, like them, can possess. Both of these instrumental pieces grew, and inflated with energy exploding into satisfying, wordless choruses. The simmering and boiling jams almost reflected some recognisable motifs from EP pieces such as “Sorry Hills”, and matched the EP’s gloomy sound. Finally, to raucous ovation and applause, Sam Cromack walked on stage to present the band’s EP to the audience, importantly, for the first time ever. Understandably nervous, as he was “shitting himself” in his own words, Cromack still presented himself as a confident, assured and genial frontman. Engaging with the audience as well as fellow band members, Cromack owned the stage as he crooned romantic lyrics one minute, and roared intricate words the next.

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As mentioned before, as well as offering fans vivid live versions of the new EP, the band also reveal some new material and some lovely surprises. As band member Lewis, as mentioned, already has some vocal experience in Frida, he performed a new song with The Cactus Channel called “Menulog”, a wonderful piece that Cromack helped perform with guitar accompaniment. The band also performed three covers, one delightful cover of Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)”, one cover of “Out On The Weekend” by Neil Young, and a surprise, “fruity” revision of Ball Park Music‘s hit “Nihilist Party Anthem”. Each cover served a thematic purpose by showing the band’s ability to play a whole plethora of genres and styles, as well as showing off Cromack’s vocal variety but perhaps a Ball Park Music that leant more towards a soulful style would’ve suited the band’s abilities better. Another soul-destroyingly beautiful surprise came when the band abandoned Cromack on stage, and left him to play the mellow “Fourteen Pianos and a Horse Jawbone”, a cut off Cromack’s My Own Pet Radio debut album “Unidentified Flying Collection of Songs”. This exposed and delicate track, when compared with the band’s more layered, and loud cuts created an exciting, and well paced set. The “Do It For Nothing” tracks were impressive live, more so than their recorded counterparts. Razor-edged bass notes sliced through the thick, and cacophonous layering of synths and guitars. Complimented by saxophone hits and funky drum fills, the varied songs came to life. Highlights included the spitting fire of “Brickwall Hallelujah”, which needed to be seen to be believed and “Do It For Nothing”‘s solemn introduction erupting into the song’s massive chorus.

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The talent witnessed over the entire night of soul, romance and passion is almost indescribable. Each band brought their own individual energy to music which was an honour to experience in person. I have nothing but admiration for bands like FridaNew Venusians and The Cactus Channel as their talent and prowess brimmed with each second they were on stage. Receiving amazing opportunities like writing and recording music with masters like Sam Cromack is the first of many more great things to happen to bands like The Cactus Channel. With talks of a new album, I am ecstatic to see where the band go from here, as what they performed on Thursday seems undeniably impossible to top.

You can purchase The Cactus Channels’ new EP here

Make sure you read Paul’s review of the band’s EP, and listen to his interview with guitarist Darvid Thor! 

 

Paul Waxman

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