Strength N.I.A, Locky & John
Saturday 28th April 2018 – Nerve Centre, Derry
Saturday night’s show in the Nerve Centre took place in the venue’s bigger room, with only about three or four tables set out and the rest an empty space. I asked why and was told that 12 tickets had been sold and they weren’t expecting a big crowd. Well… weren’t they wrong! People were coming from everywhere and soon the staff had to bring some stools and extra chairs, a whole made-up set that added to the charm of the place.
The supporting act was Locky & John (Locky Morris and John O’Neill of the Undertones) and to me they weren’t ‘supporting’ at all – they were a full act by themselves. With the band that accompanied them on stage, they performed six songs in an altogether very dream-like mood.
With the use of black & white footage dancing in the background, the blue and pink lights and the smoke spreading across the room, their performance had a touch of surreal, like something coming from outer space. The singer’s voice is covered by the music, echoing like a smothered whisper. The result is very peaceful and relaxing, and I would definitely believe that the group belongs to the shoegaze movement.
There is a great electric guitar piece in the second song. The music is a bit saturated and the words are hard to perceive, but in the third song the beat is absolutely superb and the vocals are like a high whisper. Then onto the fourth where the rhythm is like a clock ticking. The tempo is a beautiful heartbeat. The music was perfect after dark listening. A female voice joins in the fifth song. Her voice is loud and clear and sounds like “Valentina” by Public Service Broadcasting. The instruments are smooth, the music totally covering the words but it’s OK.
The sixth and last piece is very different, very eclectic. There are a lot of loud, saturated sounds and psychedelic imagery playing behind them. The tempo is strong, much more dynamic than the previous songs and almost like a tribal ritual.
A lot of guests weren’t expecting John & Locky to be on stage with a full band on Saturday. I heard some say that they had only seen the duo in the past and that they were beautiful; but all agreed on the fact that their performance was exceptional. It was an unearthly, ethereal experience that left me craving for more. They left under a thunder of applause from the crowd – a part of which had come especially to see them.
When Strength N.I.A appeared on stage, the set was completely different. The screen was gone, replaced by red curtains. The singer, Rory Moore, is Tom Hanks’ doppelganger with a leopard pattern top. A deep 80’s vibe comes from the band before they even start playing. Jesus is on stage, playing keyboards (the very same OTT musician I had the chance to see in his other band, Foreign Owl). It is a radically different atmosphere. Goodbye eerie, dreamlike aura, hello Gang of Four meets OMD on speed.
Their first song sets the tone – which is that the performance is going to be as good as the music with the group members just giving everything on stage. It gets confirmed in the second song, where Jesus gets out of hands and Tom Hanks is howling in the mic, his body completely bent.
The third piece is when the gig kicks in. Moore is now shaking maracas, Chewbacca appears on stage and Jesus can’t contain himself, the white sheet he is wearing flying in every direction as he seems to have entered a trance. His keyboards make the whole difference, shaping the music that the band is delivering.
‘I Like Compressions’ has a bumpy rhythm and the lyrics keep repeating “I really love you, I do” in a style that merges 80’s pop and ska music. The next however is a much quieter performance. The lights go to a brighter, fuller blast of blue contrasting with the redness of the curtains that were here before. This is when the music becomes OMD on speed.
Then there is ‘1956 Olympics’, Strength N.I.A dedicating it to BBC Radio Foyle’s Stephen McCauley, present on the night. It is a punchy and energetic song, with thrilling organ motifs and an epic chorus.
As the tone changes in the 7th song, Moore still goes on chanting dates – “1619 to 1654”; “1694 to 1696” etc. The music is very aggressive, played in blasts like a very bad fan trying to temper the room. The background has gone completely black. As the music grows, the blasts are hitting us and so is the light – epileptics beware. Moore is now screaming in the mic. It’s a breath-taking performance, scary but unique.
Attempting to bring the chaos to an end, the antepenultimate track’s lyrics are spoken rather than sung as the synthetic music goes on in the background, before the rattling penultimate track.
Finally, the last song is yet again a brighter one, with lights back on and the electric piano proving itself to be the most upbeat instrument. It sounds like an organ, a sound that might be a bit repetitive through the set but certainly imposes itself as the band’s signature.
As Locky & John were performing on stage earlier on that night, I happened on the members of Strength N.I.A in full darkness, meditating before the show as an incense stick burned. I shared a very long handshake with Moore and briefly chatted to the boys. I didn’t have a clue then what their music was going to sound like, but I was very impressed by their pre-performance ritual.
But again, I suppose that a little bit of peace and quiet is necessary when they are about to give absolutely everything they have on stage. It was an amazing gig, one that left me puzzled because if their music was good, the act itself was just as impressive, pleasing the public both aurally and visually.