Venue: Marlborough Theatre, Brighton Support Bands: Bitter Ruin, Charlie Khan, Birdeatsbaby Date: 30/05/09 The Marlborough is a small, cozy pub on a miniscule side street near Brighton centre. Strangely enough, it also has a small theatre upstairs, with the capacity to hold about 100 people max and with a charming little stage. It was also the venue for local bizarro-pop outfit Birdeatsbaby’s album launch party. Having had a little gold heart drawn on my hand at the door, I settled myself into a corner to await two support bands that I had never heard of before, with stoic optimism. Bitter Ruin took to the theatre stage without me even knowing their name, and it took all of about 30 seconds for me to be blown away. Bitter Ruin is a duo, stockinged crooner Georgia and acoustic guitarist and no less exuberantly dressed in high collar 1920s garb Ben, and they perform with an intensity that is almost uncomfortable. Georgia’s voice, throughout the set, ranged from a cute mouse to a bellowing valkyrie (fitting, really, due to their self-confessed slight obsession with militaristic imagery in their lyrics). Her range is incredible and evocative, offset in the vocal breaks by theatrical gestures and plenty of impassioned bear foot stamping. Ben played a spanish style acoustic guitar, and his modus operandi was jagged, melodic, and very accomplished with plenty of classical influences. As it turned out, he was also possessed of a ferocious set of vocal-chords, his face often contorted as he belted out harmonies and, on one occasion, the emphatic lead vocal line. At times sitting back to back, at others both sitting on the edge of the stage, always thought-provoking and surprising. The audience, sparse at this early point in the evening, was left dazed; be it from awe or awkward complicity It was hard to tell. Probably both. Following trio Charlie Khan did indeed, as eponymous vocalist and bassist claimed, have a certain sociopathic charm, but unfortunately seemed repetitive by the end of their set. Fair-ground organ played accompaniment to a solid double bass, and Khan’s vocals were bluesy and reminiscent of early Tom Waits’ huskiness. Snarled, roared, softly-softly, this was all sliding cadences and twisted waltz, and for the most part proved compelling. As ever when sandwiched between a shockingly good opening band and the headliners, band no. 2 suffered, although it was testament to their song writing that it held our collective attention for as long as it did. Birdeatsbaby began their set to a buzzing crowd, and behind closed curtains. Having sat down towards the end of the Khan’s set, the audience was promptly instructed by a disembodied voice to ‘stand up, right now!’, and minus one or two late adopters there was little dissent. As the curtains opened to reveal 4/5ths of the band, already striking up the opening melancholy chords, a musical Mad Hatter’s tea party unfolded. Behind the drums a Rabbit, a Cheshire Cat holding a violin, Alice on cello and The Mad Hatter on bass, and a big smile on my face. Winding elegantly through the audience, singing sultrily the while, came The Queen of Hearts herself, (the golden heart on my hand! It all made sense now!) before taking up residency behind the keyboard, and thence Birdeatsbaby were assembled! From the offset, unfortunately, Birdeatsbaby were beset by a few technical problems. Mishkin, after a few songs and the bass lead packing up, addressed this with the quip ‘We’re being attacked by technical Gremlins, and on our album launch party!’, in mock-petulance. Either way, the problems soon subsided and to no detriment; once into the swing of things the atmosphere became lightly entrancing and BEB put on quite a show. Music wise, BEB are an intoxicating amalgamation of chamber pop, frantic classical and dark melodrama. Live, they stand out due to their attention to detail, twisted fancy-dress aesthetic and awesome arrangements. For a more detailed explanation of their awesome and original sound, you can check out The 405 review of their album Suffice to say most of the new, debut album was played. We were also graced with a hitherto unheard (one might say ‘new’) song, entitled ‘Victoria’ in keeping with the general BEB theme of character constructs in their songs. It was lush; and gave plenty of space in the intro to Mishkin’s fantastic voice, comprised of a hint of fragility, plenty of guts and a few drops of vibrato. Comparisons to Dresden Dolls are inevitable but misguided; the reason being, one might say, that Burlesque-Core (or whatever you might call it) isn’t a particularly well established genre, and so frames of references are few and far between. I’m pleased to report that, as far as I’m aware, Birdeatsbaby sound utterly unique, and by dint of their consistently brilliant arrangements and compositions it’s originality in a good way. For a 5 piece including violin and Cello, which are notoriously hard to get the levels right for live, BEB were technically very tight, minus one or two moments in the opening few songs. With a little much experience, and perhaps at better equipped venues, BEB live shows will be spectacular and rapidly garner a cult following. As way of introduction to an encore song, Mishkin announces ‘We’re going to go happy now. Does everyone want to go happy? Well, tough, we’re going happy’ which stands as a good illustration of the way Birdeatsbaby take you on a roller-coaster ride of theme and emotion, coercing you to bend ear to tales of a desirable but miserable minx, only happy when gagged and bound, a china doll, and the brilliantly titled ‘I always hang myself with the same rope’. Birdeatsbaby’s unique brand of legitimate musical theatrics suited the intimate, dimly lit theatre well, but hopefully they won’t remain a dark little secret for long; they certainly don’t deserve it. MP3: Birdeatsbaby - The Trouble