Stina Tweeddale is back after a short and appropriately mysterious hiatus, with her now-solo project, Honeyblood. Formerly a two-piece, and tonight a three-piece, it’s unambiguously her show these days. She’s currently on her third album, and at least as many drummers, and still belting out infectious pop hooks and grungy power chords, served up with a Glaswegian twang and the sheerest veil of irony.
Poised somewhere between unaffected witchiness and PGCE postgrad, she’s turning into something of an outlier. Where other bands are chasing after the current vogue for all things folk horror, she’s stayed unaffectedly loyal to her Brides-of-Dracula-playing-Taylor-Swift-covers shizzle, and a good job too. It’s like catching the scent of blood in the wholesome, suburban air.
For her recent LP, In Plain Sight, she turned to producer John Congleton (St Vincent, Future Islands) to help open up her sound. Tonight though, from the first surging chorus of ‘Sea Girls’, Tweeddale doubles down on the garage rock of her previous incarnation.
This works really well when she’s dealing in the big, primary colours of something as chorus-driven as ‘Sea Girls’ (the Ramones-like energy of “Hey, hey! It’s just a little heartbreak!” picks itself off the floor and comes up fighting) or a new song like ‘The Third Degree’, which sounds like nothing less than Lush pestering the vengeful spirit of The Shangri-Las. Other songwriters would do well to take note. The exhilarating dash from chorus to verse to chorus is a great example of how much you can do with a boisterous hook or two and not much else. It’s clear and direct tonight, everyone wants to sing along, and the rest of the band have plenty of space to lean into their own thing.
Elsewhere though, attempts to do anything more complex get a little swamped under the sonic sludge of the PA. Not a bad thing exactly – if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t keep coming back to this dive. I’m all for sinking into a mire of distortion. But it’s a pity not to have found some way to reckon with the new direction her music’s taken. The record fell just shy of being an unreserved success, and it would have been interesting to see how the feel of it might have been improved after a few weeks on the road.
But there’s a nice, mixed crowd of misfits here tonight, and they know all the words, and you really can’t beat that. Tweeddale makes a big thing out of not knowing what day of the week it is (one senses that she knows very well that it ain’t Saturday night) before dipping into the back catalogue for ‘Super Rat’ and ‘I’d Rather Be Anywhere Else But Here’.
‘Babes Never Die‘ comes along, and if you missed it first time around it’s still as corny as you’d expect. She has a great line in mixing earnest teenage poetry with a sense of goofy bravado, and her signature tune cleaves into it beautifully. Tweeddale joins her bassist in the front rows of the audience for the last few songs, before spitting out an incandescent version of ‘She’s a Nightmare’, the big song from In Plain Sight. The garage rock buries the too-fussy strings under a visceral wall of distortion, and to superb effect. It conjures up a moment of real drama, hinting at the layered, heightening movement of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. It’s suggestive of an artist with the potential to really master this epic canvas she’s working on.