By Gabriella-Elise Monaghan
The ‘Hare and Hounds’ is everything you’d expect from a traditional, boozy pub in the suburbs of Birmingham. What you don’t expect is for it to be the location of a special type of a vigorous (dare I say other-worldly) live show. Having just come off the back of a UK Headline tour with 80s goth-rock pioneers The Cult, the pub with its earthy scent of spilled beer seems like a humble downgrade for Canterbury-based Broken Hands. Having released their debut album Turbulence in September of last year, it is with this arena-wide presence, driven by soaring guitars that allude to plane take off and landing, that Broken Hands bring this modest venue to life.
By the time the band reach the stage, the 200 capacity upper room is already buzzing with observers of all ages. The room is filled with the drone of jet engines and the whispering of distress signals. The band’s silence itself is finally broken with the clambering guitar riff of their opening song, Four. The opening line, “Tell me, have you ever had this feeling?” seems like a complete understatement as everyone in the room begins to cheer and sing along.
Within seconds, frontman Dale Norton has enraptured the entire audience, sporting a long white laboratory coat set against a backdrop of silver umbrellas looming over the stage. It is obvious that Broken Hands want to bring forth an experience that is as visual as it is sonic. As the gig progresses, the band are able to drift from infectious, foot-stomping choruses of songs like Death Grip, into the stripped back experimental keys of, 747. If you think of the dark and solemn feel of Radiohead’s Everything in its Right Place you can almost get a taste of a typically Broken-Hands-style-rock-out.
The band deliver their single, Who Sent You with an equally as convincing sentiment of isolation, alienation and contemplation of extra-terrestrial life that epitomises the space-rock element and cosmic theme of their performance. However, whilst they are able to present an infectious and thumping set of guitar riffs, there is still room for some more ‘tender’ moments. The sweeping orchestral and romantic opening of, Impact creates a stark contrast to Norton’s dark and fatalistic lyrics: “All I want and all I’ve got is impact to the heart,” a sentiment that seems to leave the audience in an awe-induced state. Closing the show with probably their most enthusiastically received song, Meteor, Broken Hands prepare to leave their audience at the peak of their performance, and prefer to leave everyone pining for more rather than to fizzle out.
What’s particularly special about Broken Hands is that of a genuine attempt to interact with their audience, not through disingenuous sweet-nothings uttered in between songs, but through their music and performance itself. They constantly herald everyone to sing along and (God forbid) actually make eye contact with their audience, making everyone all the more captivated. Indeed, perhaps it is this personal, charismatic touch that distinguishes Broken Hands from that of other up-and-coming bands in an NME dominated culture that refers to anything slightly heavier than Catfish and the Bottlemen as ‘metal.’ It is the grainy, gritty guitar riffs and the larger-than-life stage presence which suggests at times a strong reminiscence bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, rather than a likeness to their contemporary counterparts.
Ultimately, Broken Hands neither fit into the derivative, tame and just plain tedious ‘indie’ genre that dominates so much of the media, nor do they sit in the troughs dug up by bubblegum-metal-esque bands that serve as some sub-par reaction to this (I’m pointing at you, Royal Blood). Their live show is the perfect helter-skelter of intense rock-driven guitars to delicately stripped back moments, a dynamic that shows the musical virtuosity and genuine passion of all involved. It is gritty, dynamic and by no means tame, yet with the exact melodic vulnerability that makes their music so damn catchy and pleasing to the ear. Most of all though, it’s believable.