Vex Red + Souer
Saturday 29th February 2020
O2 Academy Islington, London
Vex Red completed their UK headline tour at London's O2 Academy Islington on Leap Day, including excellent support from Grunge-Pop band Sœur, pledging to plant more than 500 trees with the proceeds from the tour and merchandise sales in 2020. Their latest single 'Air' is taken from last year's 'Give Me The Dark' EP, via Say Something Recordings. It’s the first collection of new music that the band have released since their debut record 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' back in 2002.
Worcester raised, Bristol based, dual-fronted, three-piece Souer, describe themselves as "making Pop songs drenched in Grunge-Heavy noise, with a smidge of Math-Rock seeping through the seams." With former Maybeshewill drummer James Collins sandwiched in between dual guitarist/vocalists Tina Maynard and Anya Pulver, they took girl power to an industrial level of colossal proportions, as Maynard smiled sweetly, before the band launched into the epic heavy riffage of the single and title track off their 2016 EP 'No Fire'. Pulver then took over the reigns on vocals and guitar on 2017 single, again from 'No Fire' - 'Left Living' - with delightful dual harmonies and not a bass in sight. After Anya amusingly looked at her mobile to check their setlist (seriously), the band continued their yearly increment with 2018 single 'Track Back' - taken from their previous EP 'Fight', effortlessly interacting with the appreciative crowd on a few "wooooh, woooooh, woooooh's", on this instrumentally perfect track. Despite the fact that the venue was bloody freezing, given the dry ice testing before Souer came on, their incendiary opening was certainly warming the Academy punters up, although the gentler opening and harmonies of 'Better' off their latest EP 'No Show', soon gave way for another stand-out Zep like heavy riff.
The bearded Collins was indeed tying everything down, and his sticks intro on the heavy 2019 single 'Don't - another from 'No Show' - again showed their undoubted creativity without being Metal, its riff complemented by both great guitar and vocal harmonies, proving that that they not only look good but play real good as well. The really cool Rock 'n' Roll of 'Slow Days' was one of only four great tracks played from 2017 EP 'What Separates Us', before Tina thanked us for coming out early to support support bands, as they played their penultimate number, 'Do What I Want' (taken from both 'No Show' and 'No Fire') - a really sensual and cleverly constructed song, with not only blonde Tina and blue rinsed Anya swapping vocals, but we also witnessed them getting some awesome harmonies out of their respective, growling, combative Red Fender Telecaster American Standard and Rainbow Les Paul Zoot Suit guitars. After a deserved plug for their merch stand, followed by a Creed like guitar intro, it was time for their closer - the title track from their previous EP 'Fight'. Its driving drums, spoken vocal and Punk energy built and built, leaving you gagging for an angst guitar riff, and sure enough - boom - they delivered! A fresh vibe, cool beat and lyrics - totally synonymous with their brutal, soulful assault on our senses in a very impressive set.
To be honest, despite their 2002 debut, Vex Red have surprisingly only been on my radar since I came across their single 'Tarantula' from last year's EP. So it was a pleasant surprise, not only to learn that the band, comprising of vocalist/guitarist Terry Abbott, guitarist/keys Ant Forbes, guitarist Nick Goulding, bass guitarist/programming Keith Lambert and drummer Dave Neale, were not only playing the larger, downstairs venue at the O2 Academy. Islington, but there was also a healthy turn out from their long-time devoted faithful as well. Indeed, it was Red by name and red by nature as the dry ice again went into overdrive, combined with the red lighting, creating an appropriately atmospheric background for heavy opener 'Dahlia', although I don't think our photographer Bruce was best pleased! Surprisingly no keys as yet, but the tearing guitar solo from Goulding on 'Clone Jesus', who not only looks like Marillion axeman Steve Rothery, but also plays like him, more than made up for this, as this song from 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' built into a glorious climax.
It might have been because of the dry ice that he couldn't see anyone, or that he's just a man of few words, but the pony-tailed Abbott briefly said "Hello", before the band played the soaring sonic heights of 'So I Can Sleep' - think The Pineapple Thief - which was really well received, thanks to another great solo from Goulding, the first track of the night taken from their latest EP 'Give Me The Dark'. Step forward Ant Forbes on keys on the more up-tempo 2000 demo 'Tired', with some cool drumming from Dave Neale plus its great riff, and then again back to 'SWASAPD' for the heavy and atmospheric 'The Closest', with some electronic programming thrown in for good measure by Keith Lambert. Terry wasn't still saying much, however, we forgave him for his Chris Martin-esque vocal on the delicate and tranquil soundscapes of ‘Lake’, another from 'GMTD' with its delightful Floydish sounding intro and distinctive drum beat from Neale, whilst cheers rang out around the Academy from their faithful as they recognised the opening to the slower 'Unititled' from 'SWASAPD', with another killer combination of vocals and keys, leading into another Goulding guitar solo. Neale's drum intro on 'Itch' heralded another sonic assault on our ears, with the baseball capped guitarist Forbes stepping up to the plate and not holding back, as was the case with another 'SWASAPD' track (and 1999 demo) 'Sleep Does Nothing For You'.
After a bit of banter from Terry with the assembled troops, the band played 'I Am Weightless', a Septembre cover and a real express train of a track, before returning back to 'GMTD' and the thoughtful and relentless 'Burn This Place' (also a 2016 single), with its Thirty Second To Mars vibe, cool keys, great harmonies and a military drum roll, all emphasising a rich Academy sound system. With the added weight of the infectious 'Tarantula' (the first single I heard off of 'GMTD'), Abbott's introduction of closer 'Can't Smile' from 'SWASAPD' that "You might know this song - fingers crossed" was received with shrieks of delight as the crowd favourite was explosively despatched with an emotional intensity, unwavering precision plus a fitting singalong. The deserved encore consisted of three songs - 'Guillotines' a beautiful new song written a week or so ago, with Abbott's vocal solely accompanied by Forbes' delightful keys, the head banging and stand out track from 'GMTD' - 'Air', and finally the title track from 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' - a loud and proud microcosm of the preceding set - wow! Seventeen years is a long time but the the Aldershot Hard Rock band have picked up exactly where they left off, blending atmospheric electronics with gritty and expansive guitars to deliver their signature punch. Tonight, Vex Red delivered every aspect of their sound that fans, new and old have come to know and love. A triumphant return to old glories.