“A bottle of wine and we turn into a covers band”, drawls Detroit-born and San Francisco-dwelling Kelley Stoltz as he comes to the close of a magnificent cover of the Compulsive Gamblers’ ‘Stop And Think It Over’, that segues into an equally compelling ‘The Kids Are Alright’. But, Jesus, these are covers touched by the hand of greatness and Kelley Stoltz is one classy act. In the same way that he’s drinking nicely chilled wine, supped from a glass, his refinement shines through his music, which shows his immaculate influences. As a pop classicist, he’s always looking in the coolest direction, be it to Brian Wilson or Greg Cartwright, Echo and the Bunnymen or Fleetwood Mac. To a music nerd, it’s a recurring pleasure to try and spot where he’s doffing his cap.
The great thing about watching Kelley Stoltz is the power and directness live; whereas other bands might sheepishly run through the same songs in the same arrangement, he and his band (which includes the mighty Gordy Goudie from Echo and the Bunnymen) hit everything harder, louder and faster; this isn’t a case of slavishly regurgitating the album. There are further great covers of late period Roxy Music (‘Take A Chance With Me’) and Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’ but his own songs more than stand comparison, taken mostly from Double Exposure but picking up a few hot ones from To Dreamers. ‘Double Exposure’ is propelled by a monster glam pop beat and ‘Kim Chee Taco Man’ ferments with a gloriously strange psych-pop while ‘I Remember, You Were Wild’ is pure hook-heavy heaven. It’s an affirmation of the power of live music, that turns a dark venue on a dull Tuesday into the centre of something life-affirming and transcendental. It’s good too that Kelley’s in Brixton; the same loyalty that leads him to namecheck on his record sleeve the cities that first showed him musical love has brought him back to the Windmill (the first of two London shows) on the current European tour. As he obeys the crowd’s will to keep playing past curfew, there’s a warm feeling heading to and from the stage that brings to mindthe Beatles’ observation : “the love you take is equal to the love you make”.
We’ve seen Koichi Yamanoha, aka Grimm Grimm as a member of Screaming Tea Party, touring with the Go! Team and playing bass with Proper Ornaments, but tonight he’s solo, playing hazy acoustic psych-pop with loops and laptop. Once he overcomes technical difficulties it becomes an almost hypnotic sight and sound; the man attached to his guitar and surrounded by his technology is a mechanical/organic hybrid, like Nick Drake spliced with a spirograph and describing mescalin spirals in psychedelic inks. It’s dreamy, woozy, cultish and compelling – so little happens on the stage yet everything changes. You really ought to catch Koichi in his Grimm Grimm persona for an out-of-body experience.
Seeing the Near Death Experience for the first time really throws you; you think that you’re watching a fast and punky band, impatiently bouncing around on stage, but then the singer opens up his larynx and the sound immediately becomes sweetly soulful, as he declaims or testifies in alternate songs. It’s rock’n’soul, the Redskins meets Otis Redding, the amphetamine aggression of punk harnessed to the heartbreaking confessional of soul, and it’s a revelation. Props too to the drummer, who arrived late after the original sticksman cut open his finger tonight, and who spends the entire gig holding a very tight rhythm with a huge grin on his face. We must have looked that happy too.