On Sunday 15th August, I went to a gig. Yes, I know, well done me. But, in my defence, it was my first gig since covid happened (not that it’s since vanished, to be fair), and I didn’t know what to expect. A global pandemic put a stop to everything, and no longer could we enjoy the magic of live music. Now, suddenly, we were back there again, piecing together the scraps from a world that, regrettably, hadn’t actually changed as much as we would have liked.
But there I was, in my best denim and Chuck Taylors, waiting with bated breath at a live music event – remembering the way I used to stare up at the mic stand, as if I trying to summon the band into being, like some dark, sonic wizard, feet unable to stand still in anticipation. Arms crossed in classic British reservation.
The main act? Southampton-born musician, Daniel Ash, AKA ‘Teenage Waitress’. For keen followers of the magazine, you may remember my interview with the thoroughly decent bloke a little while back. I also reviewed his debut, Love & Chemicals; released over lockdown season. Well, this was Ash’s debut gig, something booked 18 months back and last Friday night, it was time for him to face the music.
The gig itself was held at the Stage Door; a venue I’d never been to, even before the apocalypse. And believe me when I say it’s a lovely little place, packing the cozy intimacy you want in a space designed for small gigs and open mic nights. It’s lovably quirky, but not in a tacky, 2008 hipster sort of way – with homages to the greats plastered on the walls, and a quaint, little bar. The venue was putting on an event they call, lovably, ‘I Prefer Their Early Stuff’, a (hopefully) monthly night of up-and-coming musicians; bands or artists who are unsigned but have a fire in their belly to create and perform.
I, like any introvert on a Sunday night, was quite petrified attending such a sociable outing, but I needn’t have been. As soon as the first act took to the stage – Owen Hackett – I was sucked in. I’d forgotten what gigs were like. And, to be fair, I’d never been to one this small before. It was all new to me, and yet so reassuringly familiar. There was a crowd, the guitar proved sublime, and the songs flowed like a waterfall of dreamlike ballads, from ‘Fire Burns Bright’ to new single, ‘Keep It Hid’. I’ve always been a closed-minded person, musically. I can admit that. I don’t listen to a lot of ‘indie music’. But I can genuinely say with a satisfied smile that I loved this experience.
RayGo Bloom came next, universally agreed upon as ‘that band who don’t sound like you would expect’, with beautifully composed ballads and folk-inspired numbers; glistening summery odes that reminded me of some of Lindsey Buckingham’s solo stuff, a la Under the Skin. Both bands played six or seven songs but, admittedly, it felt like far shorter (much to my sorrow). The evening flickered by like a Poundland flame.
But I can’t hold on any longer. The main event was Teenage Waitress, after all and, well, spoiler alert, it was nothing short of incredible. And I say that a lot, I know. I throw that word around a fair bit. But this was insane. One of the things I loved about Ash’s debut, Love & Chemicals was how complex it was; from fuzzy guitars to distorted, wailing vocals, dreamy melodies and even kazoos. Ash had, in no uncertain terms, a hell of a job to replicate that same effect on stage.
And yet, as soon as introductory track, ‘High In Someone Else’s Time’ rose up from the silence, I shouldn’t have bothered worrying. The man (and band who, to be fair, all did an outstanding job up onstage) killed it. ‘The Mess You Made Me Make’ – one of the album’s more ‘radio friendly’ numbers – was just the right amount of punk and pop, with an added bite supplemented by the live environment.
Teenage Waitress ripped like wildfire through the rest of the set, including a list of highlights so long it would actually be longer than the setlist itself. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but can you blame me? I’m still getting over ‘Maniac’, after all, one of my favourites from the record, and an absolute anthem live. The young, childlike melodies became a stomping locomotive, refusing to let up, and Ash delivered each and every vicious verse with terrifying power.
‘Primary Colours’, however, was a real test of skill, and one the band overcame with tremendous ease. It sounded like the record performed live, if that makes any sense – brimming with that sense of the ethereal I adored on the album. ‘I don’t want to live in my life in primary colours’ is still one of my favourite ever lines, and the drums were like thunder from Odin’s own mighty hand. It helped that I was standing directly in front of the speakers. But that’s beside the point.
The band also treated us to a cover of the Beatles’ ‘Old Brown Shoe’, with Ash channeling his inner George Harrison. It made me fall in love with the Liverpool boys all over again, and quickly the Stage Door descended into a mess of noise and chaos. Which, if you ask me, was exactly what I came for. The show had its fair share of technical faults, but you wouldn’t have known it. The band dealt with them like real professionals; Ash being the first to joke and interact with the audience. The guy made me laugh, and he can really leap about onstage. I’m fairly sure that fulfills the criteria for ‘good frontman’, at least in my book.
‘I Don’t Like This Party’ was just as playfully ferocious as its record counterpart, ‘TRAK!TRAK!TRAK!’ was so much fun to see live, and ‘Sweetie’ bookended the entire gig superbly, taking us from rock ‘n roll highs to the dreamlike ‘Albatross’ of the record’s opener. Then the crowd screamed, ‘One more song!’ and Ash probably had an immediate breakdown backstage (they hadn’t anticipated doing an encore).
And that’s when he came out, armed with only an acoustic guitar, and introduced his last number. A sickly-sweet song about waiting at the door for his partner to return home from work like a lost dog. And you know what? It was genuinely heartwarming. And also pretty infectious. I can’t wait to see it’s ‘Chas & Dave’-like composition on Waitress’ sophomore release. Which, believe me, I am looking forward to.
I went into the Stage Door apprehensive of mingling with crowds again, unsure if live settings would ‘feel right’ yet. And that’s what gigs are, most of all. It’s that feeling you get, the tingling down the back of your spine. Whether you’re the artist playing, or the fan chanting, it’s that feeling everyone shares. It’s live music. And I didn’t know if it would work in 2021, in the shadow of a looming pandemic.
Well, it did, plain and simple. I went in a nervous boy, and by the end, I was at the front row, absolutely loving every moment. Thank you, Teenage Waitress, for my first gig since the pandemic; for playing some awesome music really very well and bringing live music back. I cannot wait to see what Ash puts his mind to next, and to tap along all over again.