Pumarosa are a band I like a lot. I first saw them play at Latitude in 2016, where they made an excellent impression. Later that year I saw them at Village Underground in Shoreditch, where they put on a dazzling show. They have a big, quite grandiose sound that has reminders of U2, Savages, Bowie and Wolf Alice, to name a few. But it is their own sound, and especially the sound of singer and occasional guitarist Isabel Munoz-Newsome. Live, she is the focus, not just because she is the singer, but because the rest of the band are pretty static. But it works well, because she gives it her all while the band conjure up a powerful soundtrack.
Pumarosa released their first album, “The Witch”, in 2017. The two songs that became big favourites were the portentous “Lion’s Den” and the Goth/dance track piece “Priestess”. But my favourite was the song “Honey”. It’s a simpler rock track than most on the album, but I liked the despairing take on what we are doing to our world, and especially the build-up and break out of the guitar solo about half way through the song. Definitely shades of The Edge in there, but that is always OK by me. I also developed an affection for the song through its connection with a novel I’ve written, called “The Decision”. It’s a dystopian political thriller set in 2027, where environmental degradation looms large. But there are relationships too, and one of these crystallises at the end of the novel. I was playing “Honey” as I wrote the last words of the novel – that was pure coincidence. But it then made sense: that guitar build up worked perfectly for the scene, if I imagined what it would be like in a film. And the overall environmental theme would be perfect too. So all I need now is a publisher and a film-maker! (You can buy it on Amazon, by the way).
The second album, “Devastation” was released recently. It follows a period of struggle for Isabel, which included being diagnosed with cervical cancer. I’m assuming she has come through that successfully, given her performance last night. The album is pretty amazing – striving even more for that big sound than in “The Witch”. The electronics dominate, though the guitar lurks in there and came more to the fore in live performance. It’s an album that rewards a few listens: you make the connections, feel the melodies and appreciate the beats. I hadn’t listened to it as much as I would have liked before last night’s show, but I was getting there. Songs like “Lose Control”, “Heaven” and “Lost in Her” had made a big impression, and “Into the Woods” promised to be pretty awesome live.
And it was – it was the opener. Even better, “Honey” survived the inevitable cull when you have a second album to showcase. It was the second song. Not everyone around me seemed familiar with it, but I exulted inwardly! A word for EartH too: it was my first time at the venue. The nearest station is Dalston Kingsland overground, though it’s generally described as being in Hackney (hence the H in the name). I really liked the venue. It was a theatre, but the seating was stepped wooden flooring. I thought it worked really well for a concert, and when we reached the point when everyone felt compelled to stand up (which was for “Priestess”) there was still ample space. The surroundings also contributed to the atmospheric feel of the show, accentuated by the lighting and a lot of dry ice!
The set was dominated by the new songs, but people seemed quite familiar with them. Highlights for me included “Into the Woods” at the start, which rocked, and the two songs that comprised the encore: “Lose Control” and ”Devastation”. “Lose Control” is a electro-dance delight with a catchy chorus, and “Devastation” starts slowly and develops in a way that made me think it could have been influenced by some of David Bowie’s work on his last album “Blackstar”.
The set was only just over an hour and I would have liked to hear a bit more – perhaps the “oldies” like “Cecilia” or “Lion’s Den”, or “Lost in Her” from “Devastation” for example. But it was a great show. Undoubtedly the highlight for the audience was “Priestess”, which has a pretty irresistible dance beat lurking in its layers. And I’d go along with that, though hearing “Honey” was a joy.
Isabel commanded the stage, dressed in what looked like a psychedelic top, motorcycling leggings and a pair of white platform boots. But she was humble too – genuinely in awe of the venue they were playing and the number of people who had come. It was a pleasure to be there. The new album is very striking and gets better with every listen, and this show demonstrated the power that lies within those songs. I really hope they’ll be playing the summer festivals in 2020. A return to Latitude would be perfect!