Nottingham’s April Towers first hit us rather mildly, more mildly than we’re expecting from a King Kong Company support act. Oscillating synths trip lightly across the heads of the audience and elicit a smile with no real recognition. But it’s a steady build, their crystal clear sounds never drowned out by the audience burble begin eventually to dominate. Songs seem primarily mood-based and it’s the darker stuff which first demands attention, attention which then begins to feed back into the set as a whole. Alex Noble’s voice isn’t the strongest but a pleading quality to a voice isn’t a bad thing in songs of the lovelorn and on the whole, it’s a genuinely pleasant set that, whether it wants to be or not, is reminiscent of the 1980s.
Feeling a mild sweat break out on your forehead as you make your way closer to the front of a venue before the support act have even finished means you know the crowd is going to be dense and enthusiastic. Kicking things off with new track “Involved”, King Kong Company appear on stage in black hoodies and electronic visors but in the context of the rest of the night, this is nothing and we almost feel it’s superfluous mentioning it. In terms of dressing up, this is the pre-warm-up.
It seems many people here are veterans of Sunflowerfest -where King Kong Company headlined the main stage on the Sunday night – as when a mention is given to the festival a roar of appreciation goes up from the crowd. As festival memories are notorious for their non-specificity, they can’t quite recall how this band gradually warmed them up from Sunday evening mud and light rain to a full-on rave, not caring about the weather conditions. The answer is revealed to be reggae. White man’s reggae, certainly, with some dubious accents employed for added faux authenticity but the Waterford act have the experience and style and musical nous to recognise their influences, borrow and yet completely reform what their source material might have been. This dub reggae has bite, gentle Groove Armada-esque trumpets recur again and again throughout the set but gradually make way for the driving beat.
The word of the night is “satisfying” and it almost seems unfair to try and unpick a synth from a vocal from a bass and praise one above all else as nothing overpowers, combining to make a balanced whole, a steady thrum of fullness. It’s not a quiet satisfaction though, by any means, all songs played here stand a good chance of an audience chorus of “Oy, oy, oy fucking oy”, “Scarity Dan” being both reminiscent of Alloy Mental at their most abrasive and everything you ever heard in the 90s. It’s no surprise that Neil McLellan of Prodigy-producing fame produced King Kong Company’s self-titled album as there are nods to The Prodigy all over the place, most notably in “Free The Marijuana” with lead vocalist Mark Graham actually singing the “Chase The River” sample from Prodigy’s “Out Of Space”. There’s no speeding up frenzy here, but a sonic boom of a bass re-intro is – you’ve guessed it – almost as satisfying. There are also nods to simpler, happier pop, we catch a whiff of D:Ream, although this is a D:Ream Tony Blair would never choose to support his election campaign. This band are music fans to the extreme and everything is ripe for the picking down to a brass version of the Doctor Who theme in “Doctor Whom” as the need for melody trumps any ridiculousness.
Bands today don’t dance enough. Chris Martin doesn’t don a pair of wings and wiggle. This seems a massive oversight – although maybe not for Coldplay, on second thoughts – but it’s an oversight that King Kong Company benefit from by making their personal dancer stand out all the more. Trish Murphy dazzles in a selection of costumes: first a yellow and black clad… motor racing firefighter with a lazer-gun-cum-fire-extinguisher and the only way is up from there, pointing with aplomb using a series of pointing devices: finger, flagpole. When a papier mache eyeball points at you, you don’t forget it. She achieves a kind of divine symbiosis with singer Susan O’Neill, standing behind her and raising those Chris Martinless wings with all the majesty of an eagle knowing they are being photographed by National Geographic while O’Neill gives us a clarion call to revolution. And if satisfying is the word of the night, O’Neill is the mystery of the night, slipping on and off stage between vocal and trumpet calls, never being directly alluded to but embodying complete audience control while her voice is soaring during the stark bassline from The Cure’s “A Forest”.
And the audience are with it all the way. People bring their own cardboard boxes and wear them on their heads, wandering off and getting separated from their friends because, well, they have cardboard boxes covering their peripheral vision. Glowsticks are thrown from crowd member to crowd member with joyful abandon and when asked to raise their left hand by singer, drummer, trombonist and in “Donkey Jaw” a spoken word comedian Mark Graham almost all try to do so, with only a slight left versus right confusion getting in the way. As it ends, the last gorilla mask blows a kiss at us and raises a flagpole aloft, holding it like a gun and the band depart in a hail of imaginary bullets. And we leave, the evening perhaps best summed up by two overheard gig-goers, one asking the other where he’d disappeared to: “Oh, I went for a smoke just after the dancing eyeball and couldn’t find you after”. “Aye,” said his friend, “Aye.”