Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Deaf Havana Make Themselves Heard in Birmingham

It’s been a rough ride for brothers James and Matthew Veck-Gilodi over the past few years. Intending to break up the band in 2020, instead they carried on without the other members who had performed various stints over the nearly 20 years that Deaf Havana have been officially making music.

This current tour, and the album that it promotes, ‘The Present Is a Foreign Land’, represents a new start for the band in some ways, and their fans were out in force to join them on their journey.

A packed house at Birmingham’s The Mill gave an enthusiastic welcome to the two support acts, punk-grunge-rock newcomers Sick Joy and confident, charismatic punk-rap-rock veterans The LaFontaines whose lead singer Kerr Okan showed no fear of hanging off the edge of the stage, climbing into the crowd or being right in the centre of the very excited fans for much of their set.

Both of the supports set the stage both musically and energetically for the main event, with the fans at fever pitch by the time James and Matthew stepped out into the red lights and the opening chords of the 2013 release ‘Boston Square’.

Deaf Havana flew through a set of 18 songs in total, with lead James taking a break from electric guitar to slow the pace with acoustic versions and then, oddly, up the energy even more by setting the guitar aside and concentrating only on vocals, roaming the stage more freely with a radio mic. Standing behind a guitar seems to be his comfort zone, yet something wild and special is unleashed when he puts it down, creating some electrifying moments for the eager crowd.

A version of ‘Holy’ slowed the pace right down with a simple arrangement of vocals and piano that slowly built in intensity and anguish to overflow into ‘Hell’, a song that strips the heartbreak of a relationship down to the pseudo-honesty of “But I never said I’d treat you right”.

Only when James picked up the acoustic guitar for a heartfelt rendition of ‘Nevermind’ did his real dexterity and prowess with the instrument become obvious. Paired with Matthew’s sensitive use of keyboards, the result was spellbinding.

Deaf Havana’s ‘comeback’ was an emotional time for many of the fans at The Mill, with groups hugging, dancing and singing along to songs that surely were the anthems to their entire life stories.

Plagued throughout the gig by audio problems, lead singer James soldiered on with reassurance from the crowd that no, he was not out of tune, or out of time, or singing the wrong song altogether. Sometimes, the pauses between songs became lengthy as Matthew had to fill in by making small talk with the audience, notably about how bad the roadworks are in Birmingham. The audience didn’t seem to mind at all, and if anything, the glimpse into the off-stage dynamic of the band and their persistent recovery from ongoing technical adversity only seemed to warm the crowd more to the stories of redemption shared from the stage.

Treating the audience to two rousing encores, the upbeat ‘Sinner’ and the fan pleasing nostalgic anthem ‘Kids’, Deaf Havana ended the evening as quickly as it had begun. The overall message? Reports of Deaf Havana’s breakup have been greatly exaggerated and they are here to stay, louder than ever.

Peter Freeth



Images: Peter Freeth

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