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LIVE REVIEW: City Calm Down @ 170 Russell – 01/09/17

In a time where anybody can upload a song to Soundcloud, and records don’t sell like they used to, it’s particularly important for a band to be able to stand up in the live arena. It’s also a great test as to whether their songs truly carry any weight; a live set tends to emphasise both what works on a studio recording and what falls flat. In the case of City Calm Down, heavier and more pulsating tracks like Please and Consequence still hold up, while some of their more lowkey filler was a little underwhelming and repetitive. Even so, a few newer tracks demonstrated a promising future for both the band’s upcoming studio releases and continually impressive live presence.

Nailing a live set is especially important for bands like City Calm Down who are known for experimenting with a variety of different sounds and elements; it’s not just a matter of the band turning up and playing their songs back-to-back as they appear on their recordings. As such, since at least 2016, the band has enlisted a few extra touring members to play the horn sections on a handful of songs. But what adds nuance to their studio recordings only dilutes the grit of their live show and feels like a distraction from the band’s strengths. There’s no denying the heart and soul (excuse the pun) of City Calm Down’s post-punk, Joy Division-indebted sound is Sam Mullaly’s lush, at-times even brooding synthesiser strokes (can a synthesiser brood?) and Jake Bourke’s deep, emotive voice, and this is where the band should focus their energies.

Therein lies the problem with City Calm Down’s evolution as a band; a pivotal issue on the dawn of their sophomore album release. Just as post punk legends The Cure were far more interesting and evocative when they were making darker, synth-heavy music on albums like ‘Disintegration’ and ‘Pornography’ as opposed to their more accessible (and arguably, well-known) stuff like ‘Wish’, City Calm Down are far a more interesting band when they lean toward the dark-side. Of course there’s a danger the band could become derivative by veering too far down the darkwave path, but, like similar neo-post-punk outfits She Wants Revenge and to a lesser extent, The Horrors (circa ‘Primary Colours’), City Calm Down are proving they have more to offer by incorporating early post-punk basslines on tracks like Border on Control, with sunnier, dream-pop synths on songs like set-closer Your Fix. The play of opposites works for the band and is particularly effective in the live arena—moderating the mood of the audience and the pacing of the show—but they need to be careful not to convolute the mix too much.

Their latest release, Blood, was a good omen that the band may be returning more closely to their post-punk roots with a haunting, dark synth intro that is drawn out just long enough to keep the audience on their toes, and a faster, adrenaline-filled middle section. While it could do with a few more surprising turns in song structure (it does get a little repetitive, but I guess that’s probably the point), it’s a step in the right direction, with its strengths—its shifts in mood, its catchy chorus, Bourke’s unrelenting, somehow rawer vocals—overshadowing any distractions.

See the full photo gallery HERE.

Photos by Dana Hope