Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Hot Puppies / Santa Dog / Olympians - Notting Hill Arts Club, 1st Dec

Brrr! On a chilly wind and rain-lashed December afternoon, Notting Hill Arts Club provides a twinklingly cosy basement haven. Even better, those loveable bounders at Sounds XP are in charge, bringing us a bill of scuffed up garage scratching, jangling guitars and robust pop goodness. There are lots of friendly faces here - it’s like a big indie cocktail party, only with cheap, yet appalling ‘house beer’ (although for one round only we do indulge ourselves in a ‘Tropical Martini’ which features half a passion fruit bobbing across its surface like a tiny, abandoned rowboat).

Olympians are The Bridge Gang without their bass lady. To make up for this lack of mixed gender chromosomes, singer/guitarist Jose is dressed in a tee-shirt emblazoned with an ‘XX’, complementing the drummer’s ‘XY’. They ratchet out a sharp short set of scritchy voiced, knock-knee-ed raw garage scrapings. A cover of The Gories ode to everybody’s favourite teenage poison ‘Thunderbird ESQ" fits in perfectly with the snappily strangulated guitar, shuffle-bash drumming and Jose’s forlorn rasp. Afterwards, everyone agrees they’re great.

Santa Dog’s singer Rowena can always be relied upon to be dressed up in a quirkily stylish manner, yet she has a disconcerting Lesley Judd-ishness to her that makes things interestingly uncomfortable as she rocks away on her guitar, like a primary school teacher gone feral. She wriggles her eyebrows, pulling faces to embellish the band’s wooshing pop tales. Silkily janglesome guitar lines ring out, touched with a 60s West Coastian glow, and at times almost detach themselves from what the rest of the band is doing, i.e. expansive guitar pop. Despite their best efforts, Santa Dog just don’t get their claws into me.

When they’re not spinning us round in ruby slippers The Hot Puppies are filling our heads with fairy tale swoopings. Take the Kate Bush melodrama of ‘Somewhere’, which sounds like a mysterious, brooding woodland swaying against a star-scattered backdrop of midnight skies.

Singer Becky is a sparkling jewel of a front-woman, shining from the stage and imbuing the songs with a gorgeous urgency and glam dramatics thanks to her soaring voice. What’s more, The Hot Puppies have got the funk in a bouncy bassed, darkly groovin’ ‘80s way. They are a brilliant pop band, as evidenced by the chewy chunk of funked up gawky pop perfection that is current single ‘King of England’ and swirling epic synth beast ‘Clarinet Town’. The songs make you want to dance and prance, jump and frolic joyfully, which indeed is precisely what everyone did during the band’s Tapestry Goes West festival set. This afternoon, everyone’s more in the mood for gently bobbing about nursing secret smiles, hugging the The Hot Puppies sound close.

What a lovely time we’ve had and it’s only 8 o’clock, time for Sounds XP DJ Vodka Volauvent to play his signature tune, Russ Abbott’s ‘Atmosphere’. We wave our specs in the air like we just don’t care and hastily scarper to the pub.

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