1 February and my first gig of the year. It should have been the second, but the intended first, a free show at Old Blue Last in Shoreditch featuring Gretel Hänlyn, ended in disappointment as we couldn’t get in. That was despite turning up at 8pm for the four band show, thinking that at most we might miss a bit of the first band, Ciel. It was ticketed, and we had tickets, but it transpired that this didn’t guarantee entry. A bit of a shambles.
This time it was a paying show, but another early year showcase, with Amber Arcades headlining, supported by Swedish band Hater and singer songwriter Thala, who is from Berlin. Amber Arcades, as readers of this blog will know, are from the Netherlands. The band is the vehicle of singer and guitarist Annelotte de Graaf. I’ve seen the band a few times live before, having first seen them at End of the Road in 2016. I liked their debut album Fading Lines so much that I made it my album of the year in 2016, ahead of Radiohead’s superb A Moon Shaped Pool.
There was a second Amber Arcades album in 2018 called European Heartbreak, which was a more subdued, less guitar-orientated album than Fading Lines, but had a lovely melancholy about it. And then, after a tour to promote the album, Annelotte and the band faded from view. The pandemic lockdowns didn’t help, of course; but as far as I’m aware, Annelotte didn’t make any music for public consumption during that period. No kitchen or bedroom concerts. I assumed that maybe that was the end of Amber Arcades. But no, here we are in 2023, after a few new singles have been released and with an album due at the end of this week.
I did a bit of prep for this gig, not knowing Thala’s music at all, only being vaguely aware of Hater’s, and having not listened to Amber Arcades that much recently. I put the back catalogues of all three on a Spotify playlist and had a good listen for a couple of days before the concert. I concluded that I liked all three and so should make an effort to get there for the start. I was going on my own, so there was no temptation to go for a beer somewhere else first. I hadn’t been to Paper Dress Vintage before, though I knew about it. It’s just over the road from Hackney Central station and Oslo, another music venue. By day it is a vintage fashion shop. By evening the ground floor becomes a bar and the first floor a music and dance venue. Capacity upstairs is 180, I read. I liked the place – it had a nice, friendly, relaxed vibe. The concert was a sell-out, but people weren’t crammed in. Top marks all round – the organisers of the Gretel Hänlyn fiasco take note. Just one criticism: given that there were three bands, starting at 8.30 was a bit late. I found myself looking at my watch quite often during Amber Arcades, given that I had to get back to west London. Their set ended at ten past eleven – if there was an encore I missed it, as the 11.22 from Hackney Central beckoned!
Thala was first on. She had an album called Adolesence in 2021. A dreamy indie sound, little bit of Mazzy Star. All good in my book. Tonight was a bit different, perhaps because she didn’t have a full band, just an accompanying guitarist Joel, who also controlled the backing rhythm track. They had a few sound problems at first, and Thala seemed a bit nervous, apologising for there being lots of sad songs. But it was really good. Stripped back, the sound was more in the indie-folk mode of favourites of mine like Indigo Sparke, Julia Jacklin and even Phoebe Bridgers. I think a lot of the songs may have been from a forthcoming EP, rather than Adolesence. They tended to start slow and then rock out at the end – in that respect, a song like Julien Baker’s Turn out the Lights comes to mind. I’ll definitely be looking out for what she does next.
With a name like Hater, you’d expect a punk or metal act. In fact Hater play a melodic, again quite dreamy, shoegaze type of indie guitar rock. They’ve been around since 2016, and have released three albums, the most recent of which was Sincere in 2022. I’ve only heard a couple of things on 6 Music in the past, but liked their sound a lot on my pre-gig playlist. Live the sound was harder-edged, punkier, with less of the dreamy melodies, though that may have been partly because the small room didn’t really cope with the loudness of the music. Singer/guitarist Caroline Landahl’s vocals were a bit lost in the mix, I thought. But I really liked the performance. The band were tight, there was good energy and a real sense of enjoyment. Very engaging. I’d like to see them again in a bigger venue, or maybe one of the festivals.
And that left Amber Arcades. Annelotte looked quite tense before she started, and quite different to before, too. Hair shorter, darker; generally a bit more sombre. The band was different, apart from her loyal lead guitarist, who, if I recall correctly, is called Manuel. I read somewhere that the set would showcase the new album Barefoot on Diamond Road; but in fact it was a nice mix, mostly of Fading Lines and the new. Nothing from European Heartbreak, strangely. They started with two of their most popular songs, It Changes and Come with Me. Both upbeat and played with gusto. That set the scene nicely for a really enjoyable set. It was quite a short set, but I was delighted to get Fading Lines (the song) midway through the set and, to my surprise, given there were no keyboards, the epic Turning Light at the end. Manuel really rocked out on that, and I founded myself reminded of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine at one point! Hopefully there’ll be another tour soon where they can play a longer set; and in the meantime I’m really looking forward to giving the new album a good listen.
So, a great start to this year’s gig-going. Not sure I’ll go to as many as last year, but I’ve got some good ones lined up. Next is Jockstrap in Nottingham on 10 February; then The Murder Capital at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town on the 23rd. And I’ll be looking out for future concerts from all three artists I saw this evening.