Blink and you’ll miss them. The explosive Graveltones came, saw and conquered with a frenzied, hi-octane, riff driven wall of sound and the kind of visceral intensity not seen since the raw doorstep blues of Hound Dog Taylor.
The band features Jimmy O on guitar with effects, demonic growl and snarl, and rock solid drummer Mike Sorbello. They are a rip-roaring London based Aussie Garage rock duo who take no prisoners with a unique musical vision spanning blues, grunge, metal, stoner and indie rock. They often start with some vaguely familiar riffs but soon restlessly explore completely different possibilities.
The evening started with a 9 minute preamble in which the dynamic duo thanked everybody including drummer Mikey’s tattoo artist. A further short break pushed the levels of expectation to the max, before they enjoyed a rousing welcome, worthy of a homecoming gig.
Tonight was actually a showcase for their hotly anticipated debut album ‘Don’t Wait Down’ (for once it’s an album worthy of the hype). Incredibly their incendiary set sounded just as massive as their big sounding studio album. They launched into a relentless barrage of stop-start rhythms, infused with a retro blues sensibility and counter balanced by a forward looking indie cool.
The ‘Tones aren’t so much a post-modern outfit as primal minimalists who understand the essential role of dynamics in their music. They were joined on stage by their producer Charlie Francis who added a repeated piano figure on the buzz tone driven ‘Crime To Be Talking’. Jimmy slipped into duet mode with a backing vocalist, to offer a glimpse of what the future might hold for a high energy outfit who are already seeking to broaden their sound.
Fired by their energetic punk levels and intuitive interplay garnered from a thousand bar room gigs, their music is anchored in the blues and powered by the spirit of garage rock. The key to their music is the way the lyrics gel with the piercing riffs and Mikey’s thunderous drum rolls. The Graveltones generate a wall of sound and create a sonic impact that is heightened by an array of Jimmy’s guitar effects, power chords and fleeting moments of melodic fluidity.
The focus was inevitably on the charismatic Jimmy, but there wasn’t one moment tonight when they weren’t locked in together, busy shaping a song, exploring a groove and ultimately working towards several climactic resolutions, albeit ‘Six Billion Blues’ provided a surprising mellow pay off.
Their best moments came when they seemed briefly lost in the moment – almost teetering on the brink of an abyss – before pulling things back on track with crunching chords and Mickey ever reliable back beat.
Jimmy was a whirlwind of thrashed chords, feedback, occasional sustain and mini shreds. Every one of his grand gestures was shadowed by Mickey’s pounding rhythms and crisp cymbal work. And as the guitarist contorted himself like a yogi, Mickey remained steadfast; a one man work-out whose sweat stained shirt was the result of his relentless drive.
The Graveltones enjoy a perfect synchronicity based on mutual trust and respect. They are the musical equivalent of ballet partners and the upshot is explosive music without a safety net. Mikey sets up a rhythm pattern and Jimmy slices right thought the little silences with a screeching tone and some rock and roll shapes to match.
The Graveltones are an impact band with the songs to back up their bluster and the riffs to underpin their endeavours. Jimmy’s snarl gives them real presence and for every short, sharp musical shock, there was a corresponding counter pointed riff to stick in the memory bank. Jimmy’s manic glare suggested nothing but mischief, but his husky rasp gave the songs an emotional pull almost at odds with some of his AC/DC and Zeppelin influenced riffs.
The manic ‘Catch Me On the Fly’, provided the highlight of the night and was reminiscent of John Otway at his peak, but without the performance art. They opened with the suitable titled ‘Bang Bang’ a rockabilly, riff driven explosion that cut through the pre-gig tension like an Exocet. Both songs had the power and shock value to restore your belief in the rock and roll’s ability to excite, as evidenced by the front row headbangers.
St. Lucia featured the band’s characteristic stop- start staccato rhythms that initially sound disjointed but imperceptibly lodge themselves deep in your psyche. ‘Lightning Bolt’ was even better, offering a delightful contrast between Jimmy in stoner rock mode – all distorted tone and heavy caustic riffs – and Micky delightful touch and Jesse Fuller would surely have been amazed at the band’s bone crunching arrangement of his song ‘You’re No Good’.
The Graveltones are all set for lift off. They have the songs, the energy, the power, the commitment and the spirit of rock & roll to carry them through to the next level. Right now they are on a mission to the stars and the world has some catching up to do.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Stephen Fourie
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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