London: “Tax the Heat” at the Big Red

Last Friday night, Carson and I went to see a band called “Tax the Heat” at a dive bar in London. Seeing a live gig was was my homework from class (the class being “London: Culture Capital of the World”) and I found this free show on timeout.com. Below is my review of the gig, written for class and shared with you, as well as a video from the night! Check out their music on Spotify – my favorite song of theirs is below – and their website.

A Rock Band with Big Potential in a Small Pub:

“Tax the Heat” at the Big Red, London, July 15

Last Friday night, modern rock group “Tax the Heat” performed live at The Big Red dive bar in Holloway, London to a small and intimate crowd gathered by the beer taps. The band took the small stage without preamble and lit right into their opening song, the amps turned up to “perfectly deafening” and the drumbeat pulsing the beers in the hands of the mixed-age audience. As a venue, The Big Red attracted a varied crowd—the venue itself, with its license plate decked ceiling, cowgirl cut-outs, dark wood, and poster smattered walls, felt like a mix between Western saloon, biker gang hangout, and classic dim-lit London pub. Between tables with empty bottles of Jack Daniels holding flickering candles and walls decked with cow skulls, the bar counter was placed strategically in the middle of the establishment, leaving the stage directly near the front doors. Amongst the audience, a few tall tables stood holding chips and drinks. As the crowd gathered in this space before the show, the clientele turned out to be an odd mix of leather clad bikers, pierced punk rockers, young professionals, and groups of middle aged men and women, showing the bar was both an old standby for some and a new find for others.

While it seemed some people ended up at the gig by accident, a few devotees sporting “Tax the Heat” shirts clustered around the front of the stage and knew every word. However, seeing as the show was free, the turnout was not impressive. Perhaps the gig was not well advertised, the bar’s location was not in a frequented area, or the band did not yet have the reputation to draw a crowd. As is often the case, the real reason for the low turnout was likely a mix of these factors. Nonetheless, The Big Red was not by any means empty, and the crowd exuded a general atmosphere of enjoyment and bobbed in tune with songs they (mostly) didn’t know.

Even for someone who has never heard of Tax the Heat, the band’s performance was easily enjoyable—if you like rock music, that is. Their sound is a mix of modern, indie, alternative, and classic rock, featuring strong guitar riffs and harmonies that work seamlessly. The lead singer, Alex Veale, is a talented guitarist and adequate vocalist, but has a voice that is indistinguishable from other current rock bands. During the gig, he lacked the charisma that most lead singers exhibit during a show, and really the instrumental quality overshadowed his vocals. As far as performance goes, drummer Jack Taylor really stole the show; his tall, lanky appearance made him a prominent figure, and his confident mastery of the drumsticks demanded attention. He looked as if he was having the time of his life, singing to every word and smiling in a way that was somehow both endearing and rock n’ roll at the same time. His signature energy was manifested when he sang along to the music, opening his mouth wide like he was shouting the words and occasionally getting out of his seat in excitement during a break in instrumentals. Guitarist J.P. Jacyshyn displayed excellent talent during solos, fingers flying down the frets casually and without extravagance. On the other side of the stage, bassist Antonio Angotti played in an equally nonchalant style, being most exuberant during the parts when the musicians would bang their heads in sync.

The band’s look was buttoned up hipster chic, complete with combed hair, beards, suits, and glasses. Their fashion choices matched their simple performance; over-the-top show garb or edgy punk leather would not have fit their sound or spirit as a band. As a whole, the band cared about their audience, and the listeners easily picked up the bluesy rock lyrics when they were invited to sing along. In the song “Some Sympathy,” the crowd was able to nod along, sing, and raise their drinks during the strong and catchy chorus, picking up on the fact that if it got traction, this was a song that could be played on the radio or used in a commercial. With hard-hitting beats, lyrics supported by harmonies, and memorable guitar riffs throughout the set, it was easy to get caught up in the gig, stomping along and slopping your drink. Some of the music was angry with a strong beat; some was soulful with a memorable line during the song; but most was just fun loud rock music to sing along with at your local dive bar, nodding your head and pounding your foot in rhythm without really noticing the lyrics until the chorus.

Speaking in terms of talent, this band still has a fighting chance in spite of the unimpressive turnout. With the current popularity of alternative rock bands, and with a sound akin to the Black Keys or the Raconteurs, Tax the Heat could easily take off and pack a bigger stage if they differentiate themselves. This is probably their dream and biggest challenge, and what keeps their lanky drummer smiling and playing passionately. With a few more catchy hits, some luck, and a bigger following, this band could catch fire. Next time they play The Big Red, let’s hope there isn’t room for standing tables to hold chips.

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