It’s evident straight away why Pom Poko asked Brighton’s Orchards to open for them on this, their first full UK tour. They’re a British version of the Norwegian outfit. Guitarist Sam Rushton, who looks like a cross between AC/DC’s Angus McKinnon Young in his shorts and Benny from Crossroads, wields his guitar around extracting all sorts of weird and wonderful noises from it, from organ to little clicks, while engaging in gymnastics.
As does front woman Lucy Evers, who throws in some Carrie Brownstein-like high kicks for good measure before jumping down from the stage to perform as the front row of the audience. Not only does she do a good job of mimicking Pom Poko’s Ragnhild Jamtveit, she sounds like her on some songs while managing to evoke Amy Lee and Angel Olsen on others.
None of the above should be read as criticism. I’d have been more than happy to watch Orchards as a headline act. They’re tight, courtesy of some impressive drumming from Will Lee-Lewis in particular, melodic and anthemic and Evers knows how to play an audience. One of the best British bands I’ve seen for a while. And they served up an excellent entre for the main act, which is no easy task.
This was the fifth time I’ve seen Pom Poko. The last time was only a couple of months ago at the Øya Festival in Oslo, where they stole the entire event from under the noses of the likes of The Cure and Robyn. Once again they’d been plugged like mad by Marc Riley on his 6Music programme the night before this show and he showed up in the audience. Sometimes I think he’s fallen in love with them.
But hey, so have I. And it’s partly for that reason that I half-expect them to implode; that they simply can’t keep up the standards they’ve set so far. But they do. Every damn time.
The set started off remarkably quietly for a band which is known for its volume and the opening two songs, which follow the order of the album released earlier this year, ‘Birthday’– ‘Theme #1’ and ‘My Blood’ were the quietest I’ve ever heard at a Pom Poko show. It sounded as if Ola Djupvik’s drums weren’t even mic-ed up. But by the time we got to ‘Follow the Lights’ though, normal service was resumed.
I’ve expended many words in the past trying to explain how you can’t classify Pom Poko. Describing themselves as ”punky sweetness” and “K-Punk”, their foundation is jazz rhythms supplemented by African ones, laced with math-rock guitar, piercing bass, and held together by the sort of percussion Phil Collins used to belt out with Brand X. Their origins lie in jazz, studied at the world renowned Trondheim Conservatoire, and the fastest-selling merch item is their ‘Jazz Baby’ baseball cap. There’s still life left in the old dog yet while it’s getting the Pom Poko treatment. Nice.
The set is still based on ‘Birthday’ with the welcome addition this time of the pre-album ‘It’s a Trap’ which I hadn’t heard live previously. Old favourites such as ‘Milk Trust’, (“it’s about having trust in milk”, Ragnhild helpfully explained), ‘Day Tripper’, the sad ballad ‘Honey’ and ‘Birthday’ all got an airing but so did a number of new songs, too. I think there might have been four in total one of which, ‘Praise’, was particularly catchy. Somehow I can’t see there being a ‘difficult’ second album. Sadly, ‘Peachy’ wasn’t played, their most memorable tune, even if it is very close to Brooke Bentham’s riff in ‘Heavy and Ephemeral.’
What stood out this time was how Ragnhild has come on as a singer and front woman in the last couple of years. She commands the stage with sheer weight of personality, a smile never far from her face. Vocally, she increasingly has the opportunity to shine with some of the newer material and she does, having developed a formidable range and numerous vocal tricks along the way.
The set having fired up the audience into a frenzy, it went into orbit with the final two songs, ‘Crazy Energy Night’ and ‘If U want Me 2 stay, which are transitioned by way of an almighty jam. It is eight minutes of pure bliss and unlike anything else you will hear, anywhere. They didn’t come back for an encore. They never do, I don’t know how they could follow that. I don’t know how any band could.
Occasionally, I’ll stick my neck out and make a statement that puts me in the firing line with my peers and here’s one to mull over. I’m not talking about ageing arena bands here but at this level, there is no better live band in the world right now than Pom Poko.
The tour continues at these venues:
18 October – Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich (Wild Paths Festival)
19 October – Simple Things Festival, Bristol
21 and 24 October – The Hope and Ruin, Brighton
22 October – The Joiners, Southampton
23 October – Scala, London
25 October – Clwb ifor Bach, Cardiff
26 October – Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
The band then returns in November to play four dates in support of Ezra Furman:
11 November – QMU, Glasgow
12 November – Albert Hall, Manchester
13 November – O2 Academy, Bristol
14 November – O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London