The upstairs room of the Louisiana pub in Bristol has hosted many a band on the early slopes of a mighty ascent. You only have to browse at the commemorative posters downstairs to see names like The White Stripes, Goldfrapp and Florence and the Machine, even Snow Patrol playing a support slot in 1997. Appearing at the Louisiana is not a guarantee of future acclaim and stratospheric status per se. Appearing at the Louisiana and being so chuffin' impressive, however, makes it entirely reasonable to surmise that Desperate Journalist are heading for ever loftier heights.
Their whole performance was precise, immersive and intense. Cohesion, emotional depth and an obvious love of what they were doing was paramount. The opening bars of, "I Try Not To" swept us immediately up with the profoundly oceanic swell that many of their songs possess. Its opening lines, 'Happily, I've lost all my nerve/ To give myself the kicking I probably deserve' are about the most self-aware opening for a lyricist as you can get. That's Jo Bevan in a nutshell - acute introspection, turned inside out and forensically, publicly unpicked. As an offering to the listener, that process is as bold as it is generous, and between the enticing steel of her stare and consuming fire of her voice, she is an irresistible force. She is no-one's imitation, but for reference, she comes across as a compelling hybrid of Ian Curtis (restless and haunting) and Dolores O'Riordan (diminutive and ferocious).
The other band members very much allow her centre stage. Fascinating as practitioners of their own instruments, they appear focused on doing their thing to the max without any 'look at me' distractions. Rob Hardy's guitar work is conspicuously energetic and surging, innate headbanging with many of the hits on his twelve-string Rickenbacker. Whereas the Bristol crowd was relatively well-behaved on this occasion, the Desperate Journalist moshpits of the future can immediately look to him for inspiration. Considering Caz Hellbent only took up the drums in 2013 to join the band, she provides far more complexity to the sound than just a bedrock. Theirs is a sound where sometimes the bass and drums are what you listen to most, the guitar shimmering atmospherically over the top. This was especially evident at the end of their rendition of "Lacking in Your Love", when Rob stepped aside for those two lines to accompany Jo's voice. Simon Drowner's bass gives you Hook/Gallup chills, depending on your musical penchant, the minimal movements of his considerable frame compensated by the busy, dextrous intricacy of his hands.
With plenty to choose from out of the eponymous debut album and recent release, "Grow Up", they gave us their full panorama of existential misgivings. More simmering passions were in evidence on songs such as "Lacking in Your Love", "Your Genius", the plaintive recent single, "Be Kind" and the brutally honest monologue that we'd all love to time-travel and deliver to at least one ex, "Why Are You So Boring?" More watery-eyed, trembly-lipped, cathartic outpourings came in the form of "Resolution", "Happening" and "Control", where Jo reinforced the truth of the statement 'I'm a thoroughbred' by copiously chugging lager during the guitar break that followed the phrase. "Cristina" saw her contribute to Caz's percussive might and symbolically beat herself up, hitting herself on the head with the mic in time to the beat.
The ten-song set was augmented by a generous three-song encore. On the recent album, "Radiating" was a Rob/Jo duet with piano and vocals. Stark and confessional, tonight's version was via guitar and vocals, but equally as Gene-like and heart-breaking. 2017's New Year's Day release, "Resolution" gave us '5,4,3,2,1 - it's over'. 'What better way to end?', we thought; and then they played one more. They took us back to 2013 with "Organ", leaving us with the thirty-second wall-of-sound outro, with its final, sustained, fuzzed, feedback-laden note through which we could holler our considerable approval.
Desperate Journalist conclude this run of UK shows with a gig at the Scala in London on April 6th, a venue with six times the capacity of their Bristolian gig. They easily warrant filling that space with eager listeners. They'll certainly fill that space with their monumental sound and colossal consternation.
Photo credit: Nick JS Thompson