In a pre-gig chat, blonde frontman Sasha Adamczewski mentioned to me that the genre of his eponymous sextet was indefinable. This was certainly true in their rollercoaster of a set on the first Friday of 2020 where each member contributed their individual worth towards a highly unique performance resilient to any potential pigeonholing.
Located in a railway arch near Herne Hill station, Off The Cuff, as a venue, seems fortuitous for Sasha and the Shades. The band are mostly South London-based, and the passing overhead trains complement by default to their roots-based penchant; like a train from the Deep South to Chicago circa the Depression-era migration.
Honorary mention should also be given to Sasha’s pedigree. He is the half-brother of Saul Adamczewski, the lead guitarist of Peckham-based psychedelic rockers Fat White Family.
Opening with the accelerated but arpeggiated ‘Smoke Hollows’ with its Liege & Lief-like essence. It is rousing but vulnerability-tinged with churchy organ-backing and reference to ‘castles made out of sand’. The next number ‘Echoes’ quickly changes into the band’s heady ensemble piece. Kick-started solely by Eli Rose on co-lead vocals; it is a righteous foot-stomping paean to bluesy hard living. Both their trademark sound and growl.
‘Paint The Sky’ displays a distinct change of tack crisscrossing two distinct musical eras but in the same decade. It is ‘78 new wave-tinged with a Gary Glitter football terrace chant and a ‘Stay Free’ Clash-like guitar solo pertinent to the song’s cyclical nature. ‘Changes’ – introduced in a tongue-in-cheek way by a ‘Green Onions’ organ flourish – contains guttural-sounding vocals courtesy of Sasha. It is also the opportunity for lead guitarist Tom Julian Jones to fully step into the spotlight with a totally arresting David Gilmour/Prince-like solo – a definite transition from his Telecaster twang featured earlier in the song.
In ‘Smile’, a musical sense of the ‘66/‘67 explosion into Technicolour is evoked. This is a song which is overly psychedelic, but with the beguiling ambiguity of June Carter-like vocals and accordion played by keyboardist Arthur Palmer. While all this is happening, the rest of the band – underpinned by bearded bassist Jim Dawkins – thrash out an early The Who-like Pop Art backing. Uncannily enough, Arthur’s accordion gels nicely with the rest of the band, achieving an air of uplifting dementedness.
During the stinging ‘Down Below’, Arthur wildly shakes a tambourine as Sasha and Eli Rose vocalise and alternate in an amphetamine-like Jefferson Airplane fashion while Tom plays caustic-sounding slide preparing us for the feral closer ‘Caveman Love’. This would sit nicely on a ‘Pebbles’ compilation – both in the title and style – as it contains definite shades of ‘the forefather of garage punk’ Link Wray. A commemorative but contemporaneous ballsy strut.
Even though their latest single, the radio-friendly ‘Girls’ was conspicuous by its absence, Sasha and the Shades showed that they had definitely built up an arsenal for the definitive edge-of-your-seat gig. While their debut album is yet outstanding, these memorable songs, old and new will be their current calling cards. Well worn and ready.
Live Photographs: Humphrey Fordham