Gig review: Wet Nun & Guests (Alexis Gotts memorial gig) – Sheffield O2 Academy, Saturday 5th March
Tonight could have been a sombre affair; a charity gig – held to raise money for mental health awareness – remembering Alexis Gotts, the drummer of Sheffield band Wet Nuns, who killed himself in 2014 after a long struggle with depression. However, it quickly becomes apparent that, for the people who knew him and called him a friend, there’s no point in succumbing to grief. Gotts was clearly very well liked, as evidenced by the sheer amount of people in the O2 Academy who appear visibly moved by the proceedings (and as it turns out, over ten and a half grand is raised in ticket/merch sales). The idea is not to mourn his passing, but to celebrate his memory, having fun and enjoying some great music.
First up are the Creedence Clearwater Revival cover group, Creedence Clearwater Review. Personally, I can be a bit put off by cover bands, but these guys can really play and are obviously having fun doing it, so who can complain. The singer does a great approximation of John Fogerty’s throaty howl, and endearingly takes the piss out of himself and the leather trousers he’s wearing, keeping the mood light. Songs like ‘Proud Mary’, ‘Run Through the Jungle’ and ‘Fortunate Son’ are pretty much indestructible, especially when played with this much conviction.
Next are Sheffield noise purveyors Sievehead, quickening the tempo with some raw, breakneck post-punk. It seems almost redundant to compare bands of this mould to Joy Division, but the similarity here is inescapable; only Sievehead are perhaps more ‘punk’ than ‘post’, dialling up the aggression with fast, jangly, distorted guitar riffs. Songs like ‘No Grapes’ and ‘Look Both Ways’ quickly whip the crowd up and provoke much headbanging. As far as I can tell from their Bandcamp page, these guys haven’t been a band for too long, and are definitely worth keeping an ear out for.
Baba Naga are a revelation, with their hypnotic sound filling the academy and enrapturing everyone within the first few notes. They play a kind of meditative, Middle-Eastern flavoured drone rock, similar to the music of Al Cisneros/Chris Hakius outfit Om; humming, metronomic bass lines (enhanced by a sitar-esque shimmer, courtesy of a tastefully employed effects pedal); powerful, heavy-handed drumming which seems to shake your eardrums; swirling, effects-laden vocal chanting; and some virtuosic wah-drenched guitar playing.
The effect is immediate and frankly stunning, and although perhaps the ‘five minutes of atmospheric drone, followed by two minutes of heavy riffing’ template maybe becomes a bit predictable by the third or fourth song, it never stops being pretty amazing to watch. By the time a witch doctor materialises onto the stage – OK, a dude caked in body paint, with a dead bird for a hat and what appears to be a staff made of plastic bones and a horned skull – the atmosphere is really trippy, as though everybody’s gathered for some occult communion. Fans of psychedelic drone music, take note; Baba Naga do it right.
London folk-rockers Wolf People are always a good show, and tonight is no exception, although following Baba Naga was maybe a bit too much of an undertaking even for a band this tight. The songwriting is solid, the musicianship impeccable, but people in the audience seem to drift off a bit as they come down from the effect of that majestic witch doctor. It’s a shame; Wolf People consistently deliver catchy, melodic, folk-leaning hard rock with some fiercely headbangable riffing and groovy hooks aplenty, and they deserve a more attentive audience than they receive tonight. Still, I have a blast watching them, especially as they get lost in some extended, fuzzy jamming towards the end of the set. ‘All Returns’ and ‘When the Fire is Dead in the Grate’ are particular highlights too.
So, the main event. Wet Nuns have become ‘Wet Nun & Special Guests’, and as the lights go down and guitarist/vocalist Rob Graham takes the stage, the atmosphere of excited expectation is palpable. For one night only, one of Sheffield’s best, heaviest bands is (sort of) back. And holy shit, it’s good. Graham’s guitar sounds massive; a thick, hefty, chunky, bassy boom of a sound, cutting through the mix like a razorblade. The drumming – supplied by the guy who helped produce the Nuns’ only album (sorry to say I can’t remember/find his name anywhere) – is straightforwardly heavy, driving stuff. Guests include members from God Damn and Pulled Apart By Horses, contributing bass and vocals, and on a couple of tracks the guitarist from Baba Naga joins in on six string and lap steel guitar.
Songs like ‘Throttle’, ‘Heavens Below’ and ‘Broken Teeth’ fucking slay, with people both in the audience and onstage jerking around and giving themselves whiplash. Harriet Hyde from Leeds band Black Moth joins the stage for a monolithic cover of classic Black Sabbath track ‘Sweet Leaf’, and then most of the guests are on stage at once for an astounding cover of what we are told was “as close to a favourite song” as Gotts had (and funnily enough, also one of my favourites): Funeralopolis by the mighty Electric Wizard.
Gotts may not be with us anymore, but you really get the impression that, as his friends say a few times throughout the night, “this is what he would have wanted.” The general feeling later on as people spill out into the street, worn out but enthused and joyful, is that the night has been exactly what everyone wanted.