Opening proceedings on a balmy Richmond evening were Verdaine, grinding out their Krautrock infused post-punk. Fronted by ex-Silent Reach singer/songwriter Steve Zafir, Verdaine treated the gathering masses caught hold in a dark and brooding collection of 4-chord drones. Held together by the steady rhythm pairing of Scott McKenzie on drums and Lisa Gibbs on bass, the band seemed to warm to the occasion room as it filled with eager punters.
The slow burning set caught light with a roar when the band unleashed their take on an undoubted influence with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do You Love Me?” Up tempo and relentless, this was a deserved crowd winner. Sounding more polished towards the tail end of the set, Verdaine powered on. Echoes of early Depeche Mode could be heard through the soon to be released “Implore” adding colour to a moody opening, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
To the main event – the Underground Lovers. Front man Vince Giarrusso bounced about, curtailing his energies just enough to lead the opening salvo as a baseball capped Glenn Bennie launched himself into a grim faced guitar swirl. Not having toured regularly for nearly a decade seems to have reinvigorated this band who deserved so much more for their psychedelic wares. Launching on the night their career spanning compilation Wonderful Things – Retrospective, there was no shortage of anticipation in the swarming crowd, starved of this kind of driven, dreamy shoegaze.
What has always set Underground Lovers aside from their early 90s, mostly British contemporaries like Ride and My Bloody Valentine is the injection of genuine joy that fills a room with their very presence. While Glenn Bennie will whirl away in the corner coaxing a range of delicate to grinding sounds from his guitar, Vince Giarrusso’s interaction with keyboardist and gifted vocalist Phillipa Nihill adds a real buzz to the show. As the frantic opening continued through the 1993 single “Promenade,” Glenn Bennie disappeared into a haze while Giarrusso’s enthusiasm drew the band along.
Jangling guitars and hi-hat beats became order of the night as a back catalogue littered with gems was showcased to a by now hopping crowd. But all changed on a whim when the much loved Phillipa Nihill took centre stage. Melancholic and haunting, the leering vocals on “Holiday” only further entranced the contemplative masses. Song after song, the band’s aura glowed.
Before the room had settled into the evening, the six members grinned, waved and decamped. It all seemed unfairly soon to even tempt such an adoring crowd into demanding an encore. A few claps and whistles later, the inevitable re-entry kicked of like we’d been teleported into a New Order show at The Hacienda nightclub with a flash of the lights and a queued backing track adding beats.
Any hint of downtrodden melancholy was by this stage, light years gone. Giarrusso’s giddy skips were only halted when the backing track glitched in transition, but all was not lost – the crowd understood and forgave accordingly. Closer, 1997 release “Starsigns” brought the crowd back to its baggy dancing best as the Stone Roses-like drum beat brought to life the cheery melodrama that was a night of true triumph for a band whose talents extend far beyond that of just playing their songs. They loved every minute of it just as much as the legion of transfixed onlookers.
It’s been a long time between drinks for the band, but that might be their secret. Whatever it is, the Underground Lovers are brilliant.
– Ciarán Wilcox