LIVE REVIEW: Cool Ghouls, James Leonard Hewitson, Mother Night @ Cobalt Studios, Newcastle (23.02.18) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Although tonight’s bill was moved from Think Tank at confusingly short notice, the Ouseburn’s latest gem Cobalt Studios proves an inspired choice of substitute: many an arts space has gone down the stripped-back industrial chic route, but Cobalt also boasts a genuine warmth and sense of purpose that brings something new to the Newcastle circuit.

A newcomer to the local scene having recently moved from Scotland, Mother Night brings his smooth, psych-inflected dance pop as tonight’s opener. Although the solo nature of his live shows means it’s mostly his Tame Impala-esque bass flourishes and vocals over pre-prepared backing, the quality of the material and the charm of Callum Macleod’s performance makes for an engaging set.

James Leonard Hewitson has already made his name locally for his wry, sprightly take on indie rock, and tonight’s superb performance demonstrates just why. The kind of slacker pop that Hewitson and his band specialise in gets categorised as lazy or simple sometimes, but as with the best practitioners such as Courtney Barnett or Parquet Courts, Hewitson’s talent is to squeeze real depth, intelligence and irresistible earworms into seemingly casual, thrown away compositions. Extra bonus points too for performing the entire set in front of a massive projection of his own face.

To call San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls revivalists would be inaccurate, but their work definitely throws back to simpler pleasures of the past: to the times when San Francisco was more than just an oversized dormitory for Google employees, when the laid-back sounds of mellow psychedelic rock floated down Haight-Ashbury. There’s certainly an edge of post-Pavement indie rock and latter-day dream pop a la Hoops in their sound, but they’re at their best when they forgo hipness entirely to dip into laid-back country jams informed by The Band. They don’t transcend their influences, but when they just let it all hang out, there’s certainly fun to be had with Cool Ghouls.

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