The mysterious Anonymous Iconoclasts make an intimate public appearance in the Valleys.
Firstly, there is more furniture. It feels more comfortable, with plush setteees around the edge. This is not actually a new feature, but having seen them removed for Dub War, it reminds us what a warm welcoming place this venue is. Like a gig but at home with your mates lounging around.
Secondly, we notice that the big boys PA that we first spotted for Dub War looks like it is here to stay.
As we arrive the Iconoclasts are anonymously setting up, carefully checking everything is as it should be. We take this time to say our hellos to old friends on and off the stage, behind the bar and mixing desk. We dont come here very often, but there is definitely a friendly home-from-home vibe to the venue.
Our only previous encounter with the AI was when they came in to do a studio session for Peppermint Iguana Radio. That time they were sans drummer, so we are looking forward to hearing what they sound like with percussion. I’m not sure the drummer is as excited as us, his expression is void of emotion.
AI are a south Wales based outfit that have two studio albums under their belt. I think it would be fair to say though, that these guys had been around the block a few times before getting together. This is not their first rodeo. We have four good mates that have perfected their craft over time and enjoy making music together.
It would be wrong to say they are just a hobby band though, they have written and recorded two albums of original material and are keen to showcase it. They even go into the studio to make videos.
Once they manage to drag their guitarist from the bar, they dive straight in with Travelator, which by coincidence, is the opening track on second LP, Artificial Intelligence (AI). See what they did there?
The addition of drums and a PA fit for legends, give the band a fuller sound than we had expected and our attention is grabbed – and held.
They rock through a set of mostly original material with the odd cover version thrown in. Tunes by Tom Pettty, David Bowie and Talking Heads have people sitting up and paying attention, but this being Cwmcarn Hotel, people also appreciate original tunes they have not heard before.
Drummer Sean might not be smiling much but he is laying down a tight beat for the band to build on. Bassist Mic plays hide and seek, sitting behind his amp. The only thing that gives away his presence are the bass lines that complete the solid rhythm section.
Lead guitarist Keyo adds layers to the rhythm and occasionally lets rip with wicked little solos that we feel privileged to witness in an intimate pub gig.
Guitarist, vocalist and song writer Steve steps up to the mark abandoning his anonymity for the night and does what all front men should do, pulls the whole thing together.
There’s not a massive crowd but everyone present laps up every minute of the performance. Those in the gig room eagerly devour every number and after each song give the band the clap they so richly deserve.
Those in the bar put down their pool cues to come and see who is making this glorious noise and we – well we lie back in one of the huge sofas soaking up the atmosphere and smile, congratulating ourself on the decision to not sit in the house watching the telly.
As well as the tasteful cover versions we get a guided tour of the bands two albums, which deftly wander in and out of mellow vibes and rocking rousers – often in the same song.
Tomatoes is our favourite of the night. Without the keyboard of the album version it takes on a harder edge and manages to top their awesome version of Rebel Rebel – in the process making Bowie look a bit lame.
Even though the crowd have been lurking in the shadows they make their presence known and dont let the band off stage until they have done at least two encores.
We get Costello’s (Elvis, not Abbot’s mate) Pump it Up and Room at the Top, another original tune with contrasts, for which Keyo takes a lead on the vocals.
As the set comes to an end we finally get a huge grin from behind the drum kit and everyone on and off stage basks in an after gig glow.
Another quality night in the Cwmcarn Hotel.