Exactly fifteen months and three days since our last gig (can you tell we have been counting?), live music is back on the menu at Jacs, Aberdare’s number one live music venue.
It’s a gig Jim, but not as we know it. For those that cannot remember, gigs usually involve people standing up, mingling, dancing, jumping about, singing, hanging about at the bar waving money to catch the eye of the bar staff, hugging, shouting in your mate’s ear. That sort of thing. Whilst live music gigs may be back after lockdown, they are a much more restrained affair at the moment. In Wales at least.
But they are back. That’s the important thing.
In normal circumstances Jacs has a capacity of three hundred. Tonight, it is reduced to sixty. Everyone is seated, tables are allocated to you – no wandering about – and everyone’s name is logged for track and trace. Drinks can be ordered via the Jacs App and brought to your table. It has to be said about Jacs, they don’t do anything in half measures. It’s either done properly or not at all.
The idea of not only having to sit through an entire gig, but not being allowed to mingle or even cheer has not been appealing over the last year or so. But after this length of time, we were just desperate to get back. And, at the end of the day, it’s still not as bad as having to sit in a soulless venue like St David’s Hall with no drink and surrounded by strangers.
Despite the apprehension, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. I got to sit and chat with old mates, didn’t have to queue at the bar and had a reasonable view. After such a long break, it was great to get back into the swing of things.
First up were Atomic Supermen who are ‘A Cosmic duo from a distant planet. Cardiff’s answer to Randy Newman. Synth and bass madness’. I’m not sure I get the Randy Newman reference – but the rest is pretty accurate.
Their live show relies on visuals as much as it does on music, with both members of the band in disguise. One as a faux astronaut the other in a first world war gas mask – and playing computer games throughout the set. The costumes, combined with the eighties electronica, created a spectacle that was impossible to ignore. Experimental, futuristic and retro at the same time.
It was a set that could have challenged a lesser audience, but it was reassuring that they were appreciated by the audience. The reduced capacity appears to have resulted in a discerning crowd that knew their music, rather than just passers by looking for entertainment.
Common Spit continued on the instrumental duo theme; all be it in a slightly more traditional vein.
Bass guitar has long since progressed from being just part of the rhythm section and tonight we get a demonstration of how a bass can sound when fed through a succession of effects pedals. Combined with solid drumming from behind the sound dampening screen, they belted out an infectious selection of chunky riffs that had every toe in the house tapping.
It’s not that long ago that the idea of just guitar and drums would have been a bit weird, but over the last decade or so a number have bands have broken down a lot of tradition preconceptions about the make up of live bands. Tonight, nobody bats an eyelid at the fact that two musicians can create such a powerful racket that, if you closed your eyes, would sound like a full band.
There is no talking, they get on stage, do their thing, then shuffle off, once again to the sound of rapturous applause. No cheering allowed in a pandemic, don’t you know!
Finishing off the night were local psylocibic jam heads, TUN
Whilst I haven’t been to a gig since the Barstool Preachers in Bristol in March 2020, I did get to hang out in Jacs when they held an all-day online fundraiser of the NHS last year. ‘Covaid’ – see what they did there? Tun were a new discovery that caught my attention that day. So I have been eagerly awaiting the chance to catch them do a proper gig ever since. And appropriately – it turns out they are headlining my first post lockdown gig.
Tun are a local four-piece band that appear to get their kicks jamming in the shed and turning those free flow jams into some sort of tune. Their work is entirely instrumental, but the absence of vocals does not get in the way of the numbers having deep and meaningful subject matter. Like people with small hands but long fingers or prolonged and unwanted erections that occur without sexual stimulation.
We suspect this shed might be a pretty psychedelic place to hang out. But the vibe is very much a valleys vibe, rather than San Francisco. Which helps when playing in the valleys – they were definitely on the same wave length as the home town crowd tonight. At the time of writing, football may or may not becoming home later this weekend, but psychedelia definitely came home to Aberdare on Friday 9th July. All be it in a sat down restrained mellow sort of way.
It was an unusual gig, but everyone was just pleased to be able to go to a gig again. There was a huge smile across the room, from the entrance doorway right around the Cerys Matthews photograph in the corner. Live music is coming home.
The diary is filling up for Jacs and in the next few weeks they have Bez, Republica, The Christians, Space and a whole lot more. Check out the full listing here