'Lights out at the Hub

Look at any magazine’s gig listings, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that bands would prefer to clean out the manky old tour bus rather than visit the South West. And that’s probably true. So it’s not surprise that the majority of the bands on the bill tonight are all local. Which is important, because Screaming Lights weren’t the only interesting band in the room at Exeter’s Hub.

First up are Cable Car Catastrophe, a blast of simple acoustic/keys based indie rock. Their keyboard player may cite Blink 182 as an influence, but the sound is closer to the Jam or, as someone points out, an early Automatic.
It doesn’t seem to be The Adventures Of…’s night. The drumkit breaks twice, and the talk between the songs starts having to get longer and longer. But when they do get going songs like ‘Renegade’ and their extraordinary cover of Britney’s ‘Toxic’ (part indie strut, part heavy metal growl) show that these guys mean business. Even if the late nights shooting their video and laying down tracks seem to be taking their toll tonight. Decked out in traditional circus regalia, looking like a cross between the Stones and the Kaiser Chiefs, they’ve clearly got a game plan and they’re not afraid to use it, so watch this space.

Prize for the most extraordinary band of the night, probably band of the night full stop, surely has to go to Count To Fire: “They’ve got a violinist!” the bloke next to me exclaims. Sounding more like they’ve traveled the Midwest of America rather than the outskirts of Exeter, Count To Fire are a strange mixture of “Neil Young, Wilco…” and Ryan Adams. They have this bittersweet heartfelt optimism about their music, and it’s the first time tonight that the crowd watching visibly swells during the set. It’s also the first CD I’ve been inspired to pick up at a gig for a long time as well.

Next up I can only assume that it’s Screaming Lights. “I heard their soundcheck,” says Count…’s violinist Joe, “they’re good.” But by this time things are getting a little confused around the bar. A skinny Johnny Borrell-type in red trousers and yellow T-shirt (come on, that takes real guts) turns out to be frontman Jay Treadell, and as he takes his place around the piano and synths at the front, the band blast into their tightly honed alternative rock noise. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how Screaming Lights sound: one minute it’s the Europop Strokes beat of current single GMN, the next it’s synth-bending on a Floyd scale. Think alternative sounds but with mainstream Coldplay-sounding lyrics. Sadly, it was easier to phase out of this than it was earlier, and it’s momentarily more distracting to watch the ejits swinging their coats in the air at the front of the stage. It’s clear that Screaming Lights are technically and sonically a cut above the other bands on the bill at the moment. Tellingly, they were also the only band I didn’t manage to talk to that night. They’re technically good, with a sound all their own… so why wasn’t I totally convinced? That may well be one of life’s enduring mysteries.

By now it’s gone 11:30, but there’s still one more band, Pretty Jacks, who had clearly taken the long evening as an opportunity to visit the bar. Frequently. Messy, out of tune, and with a load of mates bussed in; it’s the night’s amateur hour, clearly (although their guitarist looked annoyed about the whole situation). Admittedly the riff for ‘The Ripper’ is totally inspired, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a version of the Banana Splits theme quite like theirs, but it wasn’t long before we decided to run the gamut of security and call it a night.