‘This guy’s a c**t’, mouthed a slightly inebriated Rodney Trotter lookalike in the direction of the steward who had just politely reprimanded him for standing in the aisle. That was the most exciting thing to happen in the third level gallery space at Shepherd’s Bush Empire before Coves came on stage that night. However, being exiled on the third floor certainly had its perks. I had a creepily omniscient and panoramic view of the stage and the crowd below, there was an exclusive bar that did not once have a queue, and there is also something ineffably bourgeoise about being able to sit down at a gig.
Primarily, I was rather envious of everyone in the standing area, right in the thick of it, pressing within a few meters distance of the stage. Throughout Coves’ set there was an older guy in the stalls who intermittently and wistfully stared up at the galleries as if for some form of celestial inspiration. I briefly made eye contact with him at one point, and in that moment, we seemed to cosmically communicate our mutual desire to switch positions.
Nonetheless, not having to worry about getting my feet periodically trampled on, my beer getting knocked out of my hands, or my left bum cheek being inexplicably squeezed by a stranger in the pit, enabled me to concentrate fully on Coves’ immersive and coruscating sound.
Despite the fact that Coves were joined by two supporting musicians, their stage setup seemed relatively minimalistic. When the band first arrived on stage, I was slightly sceptical of whether the sound would be able stretch right to the back of the venue, where I was sitting. However, from the first song onwards, Coves effortlessly filled the whole arena with grandiose walls of sound and swirling melodic layers.
Coves’ stylistic approach is heavily texturally focussed and recalls the whole shoegaze era, although this is not to say that they are effectively a Cocteau Twins tribute band.
Coves’ setlist gestured towards a variegated palette of vintage influences, including 60s garage rock, psychedelia, dream-pop and post-punk. The band commenced their set with ‘Last Desire’, in which galvanised, Goldfrapp-esque synthesizers were interwoven into the midst of a languorous sonic haze, underpinned by a simple, but relentless bass motif. There was a palpable Velvet Underground tinge to this song, and looking around at the crowd, I could see gratified smiles on a number of the faces of the older demographic.
From the outset, Beck Wood had engaged the crowd with her crystalline voice, at times haunted and attenuated with a cold nihilism and at others ablaze with tempestuous passion. Wood’s vocals were supplemented by her femme fatale, ‘wasted-chic’ aesthetic of dancing languorously and seductively across the stage, at different points armed with either a megaphone or a tambourine. By the time Coves reached the third song of their set, the crowd had swelled to almost full capacity. Admittedly, I was caught off guard by this, and after cheekily popping to the bar to buy a drink in the interval between songs, I noticed my seat had been taken.
It may be a horribly cliched observation, but choosing to play a cover song during a support slot is a risky business. Indubitably, there is a huge onus on upcoming bands to constantly prove their originality to the extent that musical idiosyncrasy has almost been homogenized itself. Therefore, it was quite surprising when Coves decided to sacrifice playing a track from their new record, Soft Friday, (which was due for imminent release) in order to perform a cover of Chris Issac’s classic, ‘Wicked Game’.
After my initial cynicism, I realised that syncopating the set with this cover was a good strategy on the band’s part. Fundamentally, it showcased Coves’ artistic versatility as they imposed a crepuscular, gothic intensity upon the original version of the song, sending shivers through the audience.
John Ridgard’s propulsive strum pattern that introduced ‘Cast a Shadow’ picked up the momentum of Coves’ set and swiftly reanimated the crowd in their residual hypnotized lull from the cover of ‘Wicked Game’. ‘Cast a Shadow’ moved with an iridescent, psychedelic energy which was compressed and dilated to sublime effect, demonstrating Ridgard’s deft grasp of dynamic interplay in his song arrangements. Beck Wood’s paradoxically pellucid and mystical vocals had their own pocket of sound, tunneling through and transcending the opulent melodic layers.
The highlight of Coves’ set came in their delivery of ‘Fall Out of Love’, which opens the new album Soft Friday. The song comprised a sultry blues driven verse (which would fit perfectly as a leitmotif in one of Twin Peaks’ seedier scenes), abruptly offset by an anthemic chorus that enveloped the crowd with its irrepressible electric force. Being an inveterate nerd, I was also pleased to hear Wood’s lyrical reference (‘Break My Brittle Heart’) to the Echo and Bunnymen song, ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’.
Coves concluded the set with ‘No Ladder’, replete with trippy Happy Mondays vibes and convoluted guitar lines plucked from 90s Britrock, whilst Wood’s vocal hook, ‘I’ll give you no ladder’ resounded across the melodic ether. All of the momentum and energy that the band had built up over the course of their set had more than sufficiently prepared the crowd for Band of Skulls’ headline slot and I’m confident in guessing that Coves have gained a lot of new fans from that performance.
Fellow Londoners, the next time you can catch Coves (this time in a headline slot) is at The Lexington on 1st May.
Coves’ debut album, Soft Friday, was released on 31st of March and is available to purchase on iTunes.