Review: Deaf Havana at the Northumbria Students Union

For the first time in quite a few years, Deaf Havana returned to Newcastle, they played at Northumbria Student’s Union (the venue was surprisingly quite hard to find, and I spent a fair bit of time wandering around the library, lost and confused, until I spied someone else wearing band merch and followed them to the correct location). A more intimate venue than the O2, it provided the perfect atmosphere for Deaf Havana’s eclectic range of powerful and nostalgic tracks. Deaf Havana released their fourth album, All These Countless Nights, earlier this year and last month they put out a reworked version. ATCN is the best work they’ve done, and is by far my favourite record, and the reworked version is stunning. Having missed their album release tour in February, I was so excited to hear some of my favourite songs live.

The guitar-heavy anthem stimulates the crowd, and we know every word

Supporting the Norfolk five-piece were Decade and Black Foxxes. Decade are a five-piece from Bath, and they have been around for about eight years, but they only released their second studio album this year. Good things take time thought, and Pleasantries has been extremely well received. Their loud, guitar-confident set was a perfect opening to the gig, and they played some of the best songs from their new album, including ‘Peach Milk’ and ‘Wasted.’ Even for those unfamiliar with the band, it was hard not to get hooked by the pop-rock feel of ‘Daisy May’ and people started to murmur along. Then Black Foxxes took the reins, and they performed incredibly. The Exeter trio have just one album under their belt, released last year, but their relative lack of experience means nothing. Vocalist Mark Holley knows how to command a stage. The contrast between intense tracks such as ‘Husk’ and the bitter ‘Whatever Lets You Cope’ shows off his forceful and dynamic vocals. They also played a few new tracks from their upcoming album, which is going to be a brilliant record if its first single ‘Saela’ is anything to go by.

Deaf Havana take control of the venue from the moment they kick off their set, opening with ‘Fever’. The guitar-heavy anthem stimulates the crowd, and we know every word. They keep up the pace with ‘Sing’ which was the first single to be released from ATCN and is certainly one of the strongest. The band play subtle Stranger Things voice clips intermittently during song breaks, which adds to the energy and atmosphere of the crowd, and ties into the Stranger Things merch they have on sale (being obsessed with both Deaf Havana and Stranger Things, the shirt I bought is now my most favourite possession).

They bring out a few older tracks to please us long-term fans, with classics from Fools and Worthless Liars, like ‘Anemophobia’ and ‘Hunstanton Pier’. The best thing is when James doesn’t even need to sing the chorus, because the crowd carries every word. They avoid predictability, omitting some of their most well-known tracks like ‘Little White Lies’ and ‘Kings Road Ghosts’ from the set, in favour of the evocative and underrated ‘Caro Padre’ which is absolutely incredible live.

Frontman James Veck-Gilodi seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, which means a lot considering that he has previously said he hates touring. The band have had some difficult times recently, which led to the huge gap between album releases. The band had to cancel a tour a while back as they changed management, went through the departure of their guitarist Chris Pennells, and very nearly split up. All These Countless Nights represents a new beginning for the band, and this year alone, the band have accomplished so much with an album and a reworked version released, their album release tour back in February, and supporting Placebo on their Australian tour.

 

Deaf Havana’s music means a lot to fans, because everything they write is so honest. They write songs about life, and growing up, and the struggles and mental health problems that can come with it. The band play a heart-rending version of ‘Happiness’ which is a song about James’ experience with depression and alcoholism; in his words, about how he is “always fucking up everything good that comes my way”. It’s one of the best moments of the night.

 

Moving onto some of the reworked versions of songs, they choose a few of the stronger ones. The reworked album isn’t an acoustic album, so while some of the songs were stripped back and given a folk-y vibe, others were given more depth by featuring the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The reworked version of ‘Like a Ghost’ works so well live. Instrumentally, its powerful and guitar-heavy, and the lyrics are angry but nostalgic, and the orchestral notes worked into the song create an intense atmosphere.

Deaf Havana disappear from the stage for a few minutes (just enough time for a quick Jeremy Corbyn chant) and then return for their encore. They come back with strength with ‘Trigger’ and ‘Boston Square’ but to finish, they choose one of their most beautifully sombre songs. ‘Anemophobia Part II’ was a bonus track to All These Countless Nights if you bought a vinyl or CD copy of the album, but was released in digital format along with the reworked album. To say that it doesn’t feature on the main album, it’s one of Deaf Havana’s best songs. It’s an important song, linking back to ‘Anemophobia’ with the themes of depression and anxiety which James manages to write so eloquently about. He captures the room with the chorus “I see it now, it’s not what I need, ‘cause a saving grace never came along for me” but the energy is still there, and it’s the perfect song to end on.

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