A few weeks ago, Beatenberg released their much-anticipated 16 track LP entitled The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg. Last Friday, The Assembly played host to the third of a series of four launch parties, finishing off the Western Cape leg of the tour.
The three-piece arrived on stage at 11pm and burst into action with a tight recital of one of their leading hits off the album, “Rafael”, with Matthew Field delivering a vocal performance stellar enough for me to wonder if he was lip-syncing (don’t worry, he wasn’t). On that note, it is important to recognise that each member of the band is a joy to observe, all handling their respective instruments with great ease and skill, successfully creating an unusually full sound for just three people – a product of both great musicianship as well as great song-writing. It has always been the case that one guitar, one bass, and a drum kit achieve a sound much greater than the sum of its parts, and even though their latest performances have been aided by backing tracks and samples, it by no means takes away from this incredible ability.
There was a notable lack of crowd interaction from Field, but this should not be confused as some result of a too-cool attitude that has developed due to recent fame. The band has always let the music speak for itself, and it’s not clear if this has been an intentional decision or merely a product of Field’s shy character. When I first watched the band in 2011 at the old Zula bar (which was also the same night I saw Bateleur for the first time – great night) I was immediately struck by this lack of communication, but I have since learned that this is just how the band operates. It no longer bothers me, and it was certainly evident that not a single member of the audience on Friday was disturbed, especially because Field rather cutely and subtly acknowledged this short-coming, saying half way through the set: “I promised I would check up on you guys, so how are you guys doing?”.
The crowd was impressive. Despite the threat of the R80 door charge carving out a significant hole in the cash-poor student market, the main stage area was full during the Beatenberg performance. Not only was it packed, but it was packed with some of the most excited people I have ever encountered. When the track ‘Chelsea Blakemore’ was announced, an almighty cheer erupted before the band dropped into a much more groove-oriented rendition of the track than earlier versions, such as the one performed when they opened for Swedish folk musician, The Tallest Man on Earth, back in 2012.
The trio left the stage without having performed arguably their most popular track, “Pluto”. This prompted the audience members to demand “more”, but they did so in a poorly synchronised manner, which left half of them screaming “we want more”, and the other half cheering “Pluto”. Nonetheless, the band got the gist and they returned after no more than 20 seconds of hovering around in the wings. My usual frustration with bands departing only to be called back was largely mitigated by Field acknowledging how silly it was that they stood there waiting to come back while most of the crowd could actually still see them. So, Pluto they did play, and it was met by one of the loudest cheers I have ever heard at the Assembly, rivalled only by the one produced for ‘Chelsea Blakemore’ earlier that same night. Field introduced an interesting vocal variation, beginning some of his phrases a beat later than the studio version, which was initially marginally off-putting, but was ultimately an interesting and pleasant change-up. Overall Beatenberg performed incredibly, but any event’s success depends not only on the headliners, but also on the supporting acts.
Electronic duo Christian Tiger School took at the stage at 1am, performing a mixture of their old and new material, evidently making a decision no longer to perform the newer tracks exclusively, as was the case at the beginning of the year when they returned from their hiatus seemingly eager predominantly to show off their new stuff. The crowd had diminished somewhat, which was a result, I guess, of both the time as well as the possibility that much of the audience that had earlier saturated the space were there to hear their favourite Beatenberg songs. But the two producers had what was left of the crowd moving with maximum energy throughout their set. Personally, I go berserk whenever I hear their hardest-hitting track which has been recently updated to include an overdub of Danny Brown rapping, ‘Die Like a Rockstar’, and it’s definitely in the running to be one of my personal favourite songs of the year. CTS managed to meet the needs of those nostalgic for their early, dreamier material, as well as those of the fans of their newer, more experimental stuff (the two groups are by no means mutually exclusive), and they did so by delivering a superb set.
Groove Africa filled the space between Beatenberg and Christian Tiger School with their kwaito-oriented DJ set. Simply put, if your ears were receiving any sound waves from the main stage, then you were dancing. And no dance-filled event would be complete without the synth-pop sounds from Gateway Drugs, who performed their second set in two nights after a raucous show at The Pit the previous evening.
The all-star main stage line up and the additional assistance from favourite Annex DJs meant that I was literally kept moving for the entire night, which I believe is indicative of a truly successful event. If you’re in Durban in the next week be sure not to miss the launch on the 12th.