Hollis Brown + Fukushima Dolphin
Monday 30th September 2019
O2 Academy 2, Islington, London
It’s not that often that you get a pleasant surprise, although, given Mascot records excellent roster of artists it shouldn’t have been that surprising to find out on investigation that Hollis Brown are that rarest of breeds, a band that, while flying the flag for classic Rock ‘N’ Roll, write memorable, sophisticated songs that don’t bludgeon you into submission but seduce you with their honest craftmanship. Having soaked up their music in advance, their live appearance at the smaller of the two O2 Academy venues in Islington was eagerly anticipated. The band, from Queens in NYC, more than lived up to expectations, delivering a set that spanned their output since forming in 2013, as well as featuring selections from their recent excellent release ‘Ozone Park’.
Opening with the slow building ‘Wait for me Virginia’ (from 2015’s ‘3 Shots’ - another excellent album) , beginning with an acoustic strummed intro with subdued drums and bass, before the chunky guitar chords and simple melody lines from lead guitarist Jonathan Bonilla joined in, and built up to the strong repeated chorus and a fierce solo from the bearded guitarist, who gave it plenty at the front of the stage and played beautifully all night. This would have made for some lovely action photos had he not strayed into a gloomy part of the stage (not difficult to do as this venue likes to keep its lighting bill down to a minimum).
The scene was set for a great night and ‘Stubborn’ and ‘She Don’t Love Me Now’ from the new album followed, both epitomising what this band have in bucketloads: melodic songs with great hooks. What makes them stand out from many of their peers is a front man in founder member Mike Montali who has considerable stage presence, as well as a distinctive and powerful voice. A strong focal point all night, super cool in shades (which certainly weren’t there to stop being blinded by the stage lighting!) he delivered each song with a gutsy commitment as the band played with an energy that deserved, and should have been enjoyed, by a much larger audience.
Song after song followed, none outstaying their welcome; each an exercise in concise, skilful song writing and arranging. Stand out songs for me were the Bo Diddley beat of ‘Rain Dance’, the swampy Blues of ‘Hey Baby’, the classic 70’s Rock swagger of aptly titled ‘Rock & Roll’ and the funky groove of ‘Go For It’ with its infectious chorus of “If you want it all, you’ve got to go for it”. I definitely wanted it all, and more. The last encore was another minor classic from this superb band’s back catalogue, ‘John Wayne’ which started slowly before going crazy on the huge middle section, and again to close the song. Great dynamics from a band that you should make sure you catch next time they come over, which hopefully will be very soon.
Honourable mention should be given to opening act Fukushima Dolphin, a drum and guitar duo from Brighton that featured the really interesting and enjoyable acoustic guitar work of Josh Dolphin (a name which, fishily, sounds made up), who, with the aid of a variety of effects pedals and opening tuning created a highly melodic ambient groove that somehow combined elements of Leo Kottke, early Robert Smith and John Martyn into a unique stew of his own (check out above the fantastic YouTube video of them busking on Brighton Pier while a couple of mature newly-weds dance to their distinctive take on ‘White Wedding’). They made a great support for Hollis Brown and would be well worth investigating.