Progathon III @ Rebellion
Third time's a charm, but a punk band threatens to steal the show
Images and words: Phil Weller & Anthony Firmin
When Nova Hands opened up the second Progathon early on a Sunday evening in late August, they had the room in the palm of their hands. Opening bands often get the short end of the stick, playing to a small cluster of early arrivals before the atmosphere kicks up a notch. But here they were bold, bright and bewilderingly brilliant. So, when they made known their intent to tour the UK with Kovax later on in the year, we were quick to hijack the Manchester date and morph it into a succinct but quality packed Progathon. Suffice to say, every band seized their moment.
Recommended for the bill by tonight’s co-headliners, Vote Edison burst into their set with the bouncy, energised single Bore. The poppy aesthetics of the opener though, which gave the place a much needed shot in the arm, was in no way a precursor for the angular, jagged riffs that coloured their other material. Like a more gruff Agent Fresco or a fired up Arcane Roots, Will Rogers’ sharp guitar work left lot of breathing space, their songs never over-cluttered. With the tall, slender but commanding presence of vocalist Robbie Cavanagh at the helm, their set was always engaging, fun and entertaining. Time flew by.
Further adding to the array of instruments we’ve seen at the Progathons, Mask of Bees’ saxophone driven songs, which spared manically with Marcus Alexanders deft-but-guttural guitar playing, brought a sense of chaos and erraticism to the evening. From the stuttering, spluttering madness of Tendering, to the 21st century King Crimson attack of Carpet Burn, their set was intense and highly original. They push envelopes, abuse dynamics and thrive in abnormality, having the time of their lives in the process.
Leeds’ Kovax then took to the stage. The musical equivalent of stepping on Lego (think raw fury, founded in that unmistakable short, sharp pain that those little studs can inflict on your bare feet), the fact they weren’t a prog band threw a spanner in the works. It was a wildcard and it worked a treat. Their songs were rapidfire, lasting as long as a nerdy virgin’s first time, and bore more lineage to The Sex Pistols than it did to Peter Gabriel. Yet it spiced things up a shedload. And you know what? Look around the room as they smash out Marigold and Monkeys; their wrecking ball rhythms and fist-shaped choruses got the place moving, full of life. “We’ve derailed the prog,” they laughed mid-set and it felt good to be off course for a while. Contrary to the array of glitzy pedalboards on display, all these guys needed was a lone standing tuner too. No glitz or gadgets, just honest, confidently performed music that packed plenty of punch.
With three guitar players in their band, it would be easy for Nova Hands to produce an overbearing mesh of noise, but, credence to their intelligent songwriting approach they utilise the extra dimension of textures to its full extent of possibilities. Where two guitars harmonise over biting riffs, another adds an ethereal sense of atmosphere; one strums gorgeous chords while the others usher out single note phrases. As a result, their songs carry grandiosity about them, Who Is Your Daddy And What Does He Do? pinpoint accurate with its yin and yang, soft and heavy dynamic shifts.
Matt Cornish’s vocals are fiercely and passionately delivered, soaring above the mix, occasionally distorted with some well utilised vocal effects. What’s most impressive about the Huddersfield act however, is while their songs are often long and winding, new passages and ideas sprinkled frivolously throughout, they always make sure to pertain a strong sense of familiarity within the listener, mainstream sensibilities guiding them like a lighthouse leading a ship through dense, midnight fog. The catchy, mini-epic Walking On Duck Fat is a prime example of this, for when the massive, vocally driven sections aren’t in force, powerful and excellently constructed instrumental moments take the foray and sweep you away. This is an excellent band, decorated with bright minds and they have deserved nothing less than tonight’s headline slot.
Read our review of Nova Hands’ new EP here.