Live Review: Juniper Nights @ Cellar

In the info section of the band’s website, Juniper Nights claims to have been described as ‘the coolest Oxford band around right now’ – and I have to say that after their gig last Saturday at Cellar I wholeheartedly agree.

Turning up at Cellar at 8pm on a Saturday night was in itself quite an experience – Juniper Nights was opening for the band Low Island (which I discovered then and highly recommend), meaning Cellar was for once devoid of its usual crowds of vaguely edgily dressed and inebriated students. Because it was so early, there were only about twenty people in the audience (endearingly including all the band members’ parents), including the five friends I dragged along with me.

Juniper Nights is an Oxford based four-piece, and although I hate to pigeonhole a band in a genre, I would call them alt-rock with occasionally grunge-y undertones. Their sound is somehow rough around the edges and quite smooth and subtle at the same time. The set up was simple and stripped down, with no unnecessary theatricalities apart from the alternatively pink, blue or green lighting which gave the whole set a kind of surreal feel. Their set only lasted about half an hour, but they lived up to this challenge by playing five or six excellent songs. These varied between darker, slower and more sombre ones interspersed with sudden bursts of guitar riffs, giving the gig a dreamy feeling but then sharply bringing it back to reality. Juniper Nights sounded very unique to me but if I had to make comparisons I’d say they were vaguely reminiscent of early days Radiohead, especially being mainly guitar based but also experimenting with sound distortions.

The lead singer James Gallagher shaped the show, with a velvety voice not unlike Bill Ryder-Jones, making the already small venue that is Cellar seem even more intimate – you could feel a real connection between him and the audience. I was also really impressed with the other guitarist Zach Wilmott’s skill in managing to play guitar, dance on the spot and handle the sound distortion pedals all at once. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Juniper Night’s new EP Human Rush (released January 29th and now on Spotify), when they played the song Lemon Head to finish off their set (which I now can’t stop listening to).

All in all, the lack of a significant audience definitely did not reflect the quality of the gig – and ultimately this worked out for me because it meant I managed to work up the courage to say a few words to the lead guitarist about how much I loved their set after they finished playing. Ultimately I’m really happy to have discovered them in this way. There’s nothing like listening to songs for the first time live – and I’m pretty sure that in a couple years when they blow up (because I’m sure they will) I’ll be able to make everyone jealous by claiming that I saw them ‘when they weren’t even famous yet’.