Review: Dutch Uncles

Dutch Uncles @ Rough Trade East, 16th January

Visiting Rough Trade East on Brick Lane is always a pleasure, particularly poignant given the recent news about HMV’s troubles. There’s a pleasant makeshift, ramshackle feel about browsing the store, reading knowledgeable, handwritten reviews on Throbbing Gristle LPs and surgically specific genre sections. There’s a sense of camaraderie and shared community when you’re browsing. This feeling is enhanced tonight, because at the back of the store Dutch Uncles are hanging out. Unassuming and quite relaxed in this environment, they seem approachable, occasionally darting out from their grouping to check out the Canadian Rock section.

I’m glad that they seem so normal, because this is what I was expecting. There’s a delightful irreverence in Dutch Uncles music, a puckish, awkward charm which could easily be pretence, but, thankfully, doesn’t appear to be.

When the lights go down and the band come on there’s a real feeling that the audience is really ‘into it’, full of confidence and friendly support and this is reciprocated. Duncan Wallis is self deprecating and really comical in his banter. I appreciate that this is a small show, with a tiny audience and Duncan plays on this well, talking to us as if we were mates, as if we’re all sharing a private joke.

I’m curious about how this is going to come across in a live setting, because the new album is so rich in embroidered production. But it’s great! It really works! The guitars and drums are tight and confident and Duncan’s vocals comfortably glide over the top. I have to admit, I was worried that the vocals would be disappointing. There’s a lot of multi-tracked harmonising on the record and I was concerned that a single voice might diminish the song. But that’s not the case; Duncan is pretty comfortable taking the lead and fills out the song with a perfect, reedy, soulful delivery. What’s particularly delightful, though, is the large trigger-pad played as a xylophone. Duncan and Pete play the trigger pad from either side with xylophone mallets in a playful back and forth, which is really fun to watch, particularly when the time signatures switch. Unexpected shifts in time signature are something of a repeating motif for Dutch Uncles, but it’s really exciting to see them perform it live, it becomes a game and I found myself laughing with delight when they took the jumps in their stride. They know these songs and their intricacies inside-out, but the surprises are still there for me.

I’m watching Pete on guitar and trigger pad for most of it. I know I should be watching Duncan, and he’s certainly entertaining to watch, jumping excitedly, striking Vogueish poses as his falsetto swings, but there’s something fascinating about the way Pete flips from effected guitar to xylophone dexterity. I really like multi-instrumentalists; I admire that ability and watch for it at every gig. Pete is really into the music, closing his eyes with a private sway in quieter moments and enthusiastically physical when the tempo picks up. This kind of mirrors the way I feel throughout, I’m there with him, luxuriating in the smooth guitar reverb and then enjoying the hopscotch speed of the single ‘Fester’. There’s a communal appreciation in the room and the band feel very much like part of the audience, part of the family fun. They’re into it. I’m into it. Everybody in here is into it.

Words: Alan Mx