THE BETHS WARM A CHILLY LONDON
Albeit too late for Christmas, snow was coming to London. Without quite the intensity faced by The Night’s Watch, it came briefly towards the end of a bubbly set by New Zealand’s The Beths at the intriguingly named Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. The venue name sounds foodie-friendly but, with the likes of Florence & The Machine, Vampire Weekend and Mumford & Sons having used it as a staging post to stadia shows, the small gig room is one to notch up for any up-and-coming band. Tonight’s Antipodean guests hardly came dressed for winter but at least singer-guitarist Elizabeth Stokes wore a woolly hat as a nod to the outer chill.
Inside all was warm and, though rendered a touch gloomy by our old friend the smoke machine, there was some interesting stuff happening courtesy of a charming if chaotic solo support set. The protagonist may or may not have been the brother of The Beths' guitarist, Jonathan Pearce (a name more associated with football commentaries and Robot Wars over here than shredding). We arrived too late to know for sure but what we caught was appealing and politely received.
The stage lights fired up to disperse the earlier haze once The Beths arrived. Headlining here before moving on to the more cavernous Eventim Apollo the following evening to support Death Cab For Cuties, the band boasts that tight, slick live sound that is born of a solid touring schedule. Opening with “Whatever” from The Beths 2018 stellar debut album, Future Me Hates Me, Liz Stokes’ vocals were bright and clear, delivered with a deadpan caress over punchy guitar, bass and drums and uplifted by spiralling harmonies. At times the lyrics are dark – not least when errant love is threatened with a car crash in the opener - but the music stays irrepressibly sunny. There’s a very brief musical nod to Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” at the start of the chorus but in common with the whole repertoire tonight the potent tune smacks more of freshness than familiarity.
Light and shade continued in “You Wouldn't Like Me” with its staccato opening and breakdowns punctured by razor-sharp guitar riffs amplified by crashing cymbals. Jonathan Pearce’s solos are precise and economical, always complimenting rather than competing with the dynamics of the song structure. “Great No One” followed with impressively named drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston shining with rapid fire fills and flourishes and bassist Benjamin Sinclair laying down a meaty backbone.
The Beths’ brand of instantly likeable, melodic power pop was rapidly turning the evening into the kind that tempts you to itemise all 12 songs in the setlist. Checking in with an appreciative audience, Stokes asked if there were any New Zealanders in tonight. Despite a full house, fewer owned up than you might have expected perhaps emphasising that the band’s following had spread much further afield. This was evidenced by the strength of the songs on offer; all ten from the debut album plus two – “Lying in the Sun” and “Idea/Intent” from 2016’s Warm Blood EP. Although Liz Stokes’ vocals began to fight a bit for space within the overall sound balance, musically there was plenty to like about how rapid fingerpicking gave way to driving riffs and a wig-out ending to “Not Running”. Equally the stately descending chords of “River Run:Lvl 1” and lyrical rollercoaster ride of “Happy Unhappy” readily hit home.
Chat between songs was a touch sparse but always engaging. Liz Stokes confessed “we’ve been so cold we’ve forgotten what other temperatures are” before admitting that she can’t take off her hat and risk a flat fringe! A frequent mention of “We’re The Beths” became almost a running joke in the set; a clever use of understatement to promote the brand, you could say. Or something typical of a band that looks out for each other yet cares for the audience. There is an inherent niceness about The Beths.
Though the pace had never slackened, the set hit something of a peak with “Little Death”, with slow-builds leading to powerful riffing and monumental snare rolls, followed by “Less Than Thou”, again with lovely build moments realised through woven guitar patterns leading to a storming instrumental outro. Encores were requested and duly delivered, sans wooly hat, in the shape of the album title track, “Future Me Hates Me” – arguably the band’s strongest suit in an evening of aces – and a punky, short but so sweet “Uptown Girl” (no relation to Billy Joel). The Beths duly put down instruments and headed straight off stage to meet and greet fans and no doubt flog the odd record and T-Shirt. There are no star egos here though but a genuine wish to connect with fans, neatly combined with the necessity to keep afloat financially.
Photography by Ruth Geraghty