Live Review: Dappled Cities + Glass Towers + Panama - Oxford Art Factory (31.05.12)

It’s not too many gigs that start with the front man’s greeting: "Good evening. How are we?" But Panama were just setting the tone for the evening where three, laidback local bands (nice guys and friends to boot), produced some good, upbeat tunes for the assembled throng.

Now, do you wanna know a dirty secret? That was actually the name of the previous band that various members of this current one played in and while they still retain the indie sound synonymous with The Dirty Secrets, this time around they have added plenty of swirling synths to the mix.

Panama's tunes had a funky bass groove and they started with a strong song that had sprinklings of New Order and some dreamy pop. They went through their first numbers at a breakneck speed, launching into ‘em and barely pausing at the end of each. As such, it felt like the boys took a little bit of time to warm up and overcome some nerves. But the ingredients were certainly there in terms of material because there were lots of keen ditties with great pop sounds, so much so that Jarrah McCleary would sort of walk and run on the spot, never missing a beat.

The four guys are such talented multi-instrumentalists that they make the switching between things and subsequent playing of them look so effortless. On one song three of them would battle it out on the drums (take that Wolf & Cub) only for the guitarist to add additional flourishes later on from a tambourine and egg shaker. Their set was rounded out with music that boasted a Vampire Weekend-esque beat and some highly accessible, dance-flavoured blips including the Triple J flogged single, “Magic”. In short, stay tuned.

Next up were Glass Towers, a band I once saw playing a blinding set at The Standard. They too have great songs although these tend to be a tad more rocking. But tonight there was some pixie dust missing, as the set at times seemed to fizzle more than shine a light. It was a real shame because I know for a fact they’re capable of so much more and can’t fault the playing, it was just that the audience seemed rather distracted.

Benjamin Hannam leads these babe-faced lads and he was wearing a Karen O “Stop The Virgens” t-shirt. The venue had filled out as they launched into a big, grungy number full of extra layers and some great time changes. An early favourite was “Castles,” one that boasted the kind of guitar-sounds the Brits do so well. It had a catchy beat and simultaneously seemed to resemble something between The Cure and the Kaiser Chiefs.

Another big part of their music is the guitar-work of Sam Speck who seems to take at least a few pages out of the book of U2’s The Edge. By toying and twisting with different atmospherics, effects and harmonies the guitars seemed to sing and scream and it’s a great compliment to the almost Energizer bunny-like thumping courtesy of drummer, Daniel Muszynski.

There were small pockets of the crowd that were enthusiastic as they played a song from their forthcoming EP plus “Lino The Lion,” one that brims with a cool, retro sound. “Jumanji” meanwhile had a silly, skipping beat and was full of youthful fun. It therefore seems at odds that they’d play another cut shortly after called “Gloom”. This one was gnarlier thanks to a gravelly delivery and a more straightforward rock sound, while the final track was almost like a call and response played out on guitars and could be something you’d imagine The Hives doing with ease. This one – like many of the songs from their set – seemed like a celebration of the axe, pure and simple.

At around 10:30 it was time for the headliners, Dappled Cities. The curtains opened to reveal a backdrop filled with tin foil strips. It was an extra bit of effort that seemed to go a long way, especially when it was combined with some of the most elaborate, almost Spinal Tap-like lighting (at least for such a small venue) I’ve ever seen. It was a great effect that leant this art rock band an even more creative, cosmic feel. It was a sentiment felt so much that you almost thought they should’ve been performing at Vivid’s Festival of light and ideas down the road.

They opened with some shiny, beatific pop. It was joyful and set the bar high for the cool pop beat of “Miniature Alas”. Some keen punters at the front turned this one into a sing-along and raised their glasses – quite rightly – in praise of the bopping sound. It was thick, sugar pop sounds as colourful as the rainbow lights, like a gobstopper or moonbeam hurtling through space to a soundtrack of some expert synth.

A preview from their next album, “Lake Air” was offered. It started off rather broodingly before Alex Moore’s bass kicked in and thundered like rain. The vibe then seemed to sit somewhere between a pleasant easy-listening number, an eighties throwback and dare I saw it Lily Allen’s “It’s Not Fair”. Sure, it was weird but we expect no less...

Then it was a return to the anthemic pop of “The Price,” one full of charm despite the false start. “Within Hours” was one that seemed to come straight from the woods filled with sweet little creatures with large, bug eyes. It was also a number the group confessed to not playing in four-five years, a real shame as it should get a more regular airing.

“The Leopard” followed and was like a great piece of chocolate cake that contained just a hint of The Cure’s “Close To Me” before the nautical whimsy of “Wooden Ships”. It started off in a rather melancholy way but the sunny beat eventually kicked in and what we were left with was something cute and cuddly, much like this band of nice guys.

After all, guitarist, Tim Derricourt could barely contain his cheesy grin as the crowd cheered at the opening chords of “Fire Fire Fire,” a great collision of jangly guitars and zipping through space. Not to be outdone, Dave Rennick who’d previously been straddling two mics and a guitar got rather animated at the end, wind milling as the lights changed to red and yellow just like – you guessed it – one hot fire.

There was the rousing, “The Night Is Young At Heart,” one that saw a female punter get up on stage for a passionate wiggle and dance at the end. The guys looked on rather bemused but eventually ran with the idea. Derricourt and Rennick got in on the act especially, because while they’re experts in bopping around with aplomb, they became even livelier and you got the feeling that when she returned to the crowd they’d have gladly had her back for some more. As Derricourt said: “What a legend!”

The set concluded with brothers locking arms around their buddies for the glittery gold of “Holy Chord” and new single, “Run With The Wind”. The ordering of some of the songs most probably should have been switched – especially at the end – because while the latter is effervescent enough, the former holds a special place in the hearts of fans because it’s more familiar and of course has a warm, summery glow.

These kind fellas returned with even bigger smiles for an encore that included the futuristic, “Peach” and the clip clopping, “Apart”. The set had boasted so many killer songs that the whole shebang had whizzed past as fast as their propelling pop sounds that travel through space like light years. Dappled Cities may have dropped the fly some time ago but their excellent songs made the crowd soar thanks to their creative and varied indie pop flavours. With shows this good you can’t help but count down the days to their next tour (in October we’re told) and album number four, something bound to produce many a smile.

Dappled Cities’ set list:
The Weekend
Miniature Alas
Lake Air
The Price
Within Hours
The Leopard
Wooden Ships
Fire Fire Fire
The Night Is Young At Heart
Holy Chord
Run With The Wind