[Archive] Slaughter Beach, Dog/Nervus/Parker Lee: Live review @ Partisan, Manchester, 03/09/2017
Note: this piece was originally published in Forgotten Chords on 06/09/2017. The original piece can be read here.
Since moving back home to Wales for the summer, I really missed Manchester in so many ways, one of the main ones being its incredible music scene. I'd not been into any shows over the summer (except for a couple of local open mic nights and 2000 Trees festival), and it had been almost 3 months since my last Manchester show (the excellent Patrick Craig at Gullivers). So as soon as I knew I'd be in Manchester for a few nights for interview purposes, I eagerly checked to see if there were any shows I could catch during my time there. I was immediately curious about seeing Slaughter Beach, Dog, the side project of Jake Ewald, best known as one of the frontmen of Modern Baseball. I'd not listened to much of his solo output (except for his excellent singles Monsters and Building The Ark), but his talent as a live performer and songwriter is to be admired. I've followed his work from Modern Baseball's breakthrough album You're Gonna Miss It All up until recent solo EP Motorcycle.jpg, and he's rapidly grown as a songwriter, becoming more and more confident and emotive with every release. Additionally, the show was to be held at Partisan, a brand new venue near Victoria station. Curiosity got the better of me, so I booked my ticket a couple of days before travelling up, excited to support a new arts space and a brilliant artist I wanted to listen to more.
After checking into my hotel and getting lunch with a friend, I headed into town to find the venue. It took a while to locate it as I'd never been in that part of town, but I eventually found it, checked in and entered the basement room. It had a unique atmosphere, all stone walls, but with comfortable chairs around the sides, and the stage decked in red fairy lights, creating a homely feel. It seemed a strange fit for the all-acoustic evening - I would imagine punk or dance shows being incredible here - but it worked amazingly, a wonderfully intimate setting quite unlike most venues in the city. I arrived slightly late but caught the latter half of the opening set by Jowan Mead of Parker Lee. Despite a somewhat nervous performance, this didn't take away from his incisive lyrics, the set building in intensity towards the end, peaking with the excellent Waterworks from their most recent EP No Good Mornings. A cover of my favourite Into It. Over It song, The Shaking Of Leaves was a nice treat, and I'm intrigued to see how his songs sound in a full-band environment.
In the short break between acts, I grabbed myself a drink (£1.50 for a can of lager? What a bargain!), met up with some friends, and gathered closer to the stage in time for the second act, Nervus. While they're soon to be playing some massive full band shows toward the end of the year with Creeper and The Flatliners, we were treated to a rare solo acoustic performance by lead singer and guitarist Em Foster. Opening with A Retraction from last year's debut album Permanent Rainbow, she immediately won the crowd over, drawing everyone in to the front of the stage, delivering a commanding performance. The song is a manifesto of sorts for their band, as they sing heartfelt lines like "I use this pen for words I daren't speak / A diary for the venom that I've kept behind my teeth". It's intense stuff that builds throughout, delving into topics that range from self hatred and transitioning to E.E. Cummings and Metallica. It's incredibly gripping. We're treated to new songs from an upcoming album on Big Scary Monsters that all sound brilliant - I can't wait to hear the album versions of some of these! Em is an incredible performer, at once charismatic, touching and riveting. She tells emotional stories of her adolescence, bouying them with entertaining anecdotes, most notably when introducing new track Medicine. By the time she closes on album highlight Bones, I realise I've found a new favourite band. I can't wait to see her live again, perhaps next time as a full band.
After dashing to the merch stand to pick up a copy of Permanent Rainbow - on a pastel pink LP, no less! - it was back to the front in anticipation for Slaughter Beach, Dog to take the stage. I'd known from the two times I'd seen Modern Baseball live that Jake is a very charismatic performer, and tonight was no exception - as he took the stage, he appeared totally in his element and confident. It's hard to believe that the night was not just the first ever show in this new venue, but the first ever Slaughter Beach, Dog shows in the UK. As he took to the stage, Jake encourages the crowd to gather closer, visibly elated, before launching in to Jobs from last year's debut album Welcome, starting the show with a gentle singalong. It's a highlight from the record with its skittering percussion and crashing distorted electric guitar chords, yet it comes off even better in a solo acoustic setting, "I'm not used to playing such quiet venues," he beams, "this is so fucking cool!" And it really is - the crowd are stunned into respectful silence for the duration of the hour-long set.
As previously mentioned, I've found it interesting following Jake's songwriting from the earlier Modern Baseball releases up to the present, and I can confidently say that if the new songs he previewed here are any indication, then the best is ahead of him. Take a track like Gold And Green, the lead single from his upcoming sophomore album Birdie. It's a sentimental look at the past, an almost stream-of-consciousness of memories of family and friends. He sings of simple, everyday events like making coffee and smoking in the basement with a keen eye for detail, always looping around into one of my favourite choruses of the year that slightly changes with each repetition. It demonstrates a newfound maturity, and is utterly hypnotic live. He treats us to other new songs, like the excellent Bad Beer that combine his sarcastic wit with heartwrenching detail, and the room full of fans hang on every word.
The set spanned his solo output so far, including tracks from Welcome, recent EP Motorcycle.jpg and the upcoming Birdie. These are all fairly recent releases - the earliest of these, Welcome isn't even a year old yet - but every track is received warmly. There's a variety of styles on display, from the slam poetry of 104 Degrees to the sombre Glowing. An early highlight is opening track from Motorcycle.jpg, the excellent Your Cat which I hadn't heard until that night. It's a brilliant song, a meditation on loneliness and isolation. The seemingly unusual title comes from a verse that nods to the Mountain Goats, in which Jake sings "I'll make it through this if it kills me, and if it kills me I'll come back / Jesus will make me his disciple, or maybe he'll let me be your cat". It juxtaposes everyday detail and observations on the passage of time ("She smoked 100's when I met her / she tried to quit before she left me") in the way that Jake does best. Another highlight was the heartbreaking Politics Of Grooming, which discusses substance abuse and being forced to grow up too quickly. They're themes Jake has written about his whole career since early tracks like Tears Over Beers, but in more affecting detail and emotion than ever before.
The set closes with Monsters, the centrepiece of Welcome, and the crowd breaks into euphoric singalong with its wordless chorus. Jake takes time to thank us, Nervus, Jowan, the sound guy, the promoter, and the bar staff. His sincerity is heartwarming. It was a beautiful end to an evening full of love for songwriting and live music. It was the first time Slaughter Beach, Dog had come to the UK, and I really hope it isn't the last. Jake Ewald is a brilliant songwriter and performer that's always inspiring to watch, and I can't wait to see him live again.
Nights like this are more important than ever. Venues that are dearly important to me all across Manchester have been closing down, including Retro Bar and the Tiger Lounge, with more closures immanent. These are places I've not only loved playing at, but also seeing incredible artists like Rob Lynch and Jim Lockey. With news that Sound Control could be shutting down, I'm afraid similar could happen with other wonderful local venues. It's a privilege to be part of the Manchester DIY music scene and to be able to see so many talented musicians and songwriters. It's heartening to see new venues like Partisan open up, and to see crowds of fellow music lovers attending to support not only the venues, but the scene as a whole.
Become a member of Partisan Collective to support the venue here.