So a band that’s just been nominated for two Grammy Awards are playing in London. What’s your first guess on where they’re going to play? The Forum, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, or maybe Brixton? Well that’s not the Highly Suspect way of doing things, so instead they’re playing the 150 capacity Our Black Heart tucked away in a back street of Camden. So for a lucky few it was the chance to see this Brooklyn based trio who could be massive, up close and personal in one of those hot sweaty rock clubs, making a name for themselves from the bottom up.
Support for tonight was provided by the excellent Reigning Days, all hailing from Devon and clearly reveling in the fact that they’ve just been announced on the bill for this year’s Download festival. Vocals are shared between lead guitarist Dan Steer and bassist Jonny Finnis with Joe Sansome keeping the backline tight on the drums. Although it was a short set they certainly did a good job of warming proceedings up, not that the tiny packed room really needed much of that. They’re a really confident band with an interesting style that’s got a hint of Royal Blood about it, but with much more depth and colour. Check out the latest single Friendly Fire and you’ll see what I mean.
A quick change of gear on stage and it was time for Highly Suspect, escorted from the back of the venue like boxers into the ring. The rap backing track fades out as lead and singer Johnny Stevens builds up the suspense before launching into the thunderous opening chords of Bath Salts, which raises the temperature still further and shows why there’s so much excitement around the band. Its raw, original and powerful stuff with some really edgy lyrics. The songs on their debut album Mister Asylum songs aren’t about the lighter side of life, they’re about the realities of love, breakups, fights, self destructive tendencies, drugs and alcohol and how all of the above can put you on a roller-coaster. Songs like Lost which is the second track of the night and F**k Me Up, which they play later in the set, tell you all you need to know before you even hear a chord.
Aside from Johnny, the band comprises twins Rich Meyer on bass (and occasional vocals) and Ryan Meyer on drums, who for me really gave the band a bit of an edge in tonight’s set. Not only does his playing give a massive depth and power to the performance hitting you straight in the chest, but he puts in some awesome technical subtleties (for any drummers reading this, Ryan has a mean repertoire in 3 and 5 stroke rolls) all of which fill out the quieter sections magnificently.
There’s no real break in momentum for the first part of the set, as the band power their way through songs like the fast paced and choppy Vanity and 23, which has its serrating guitars contrasted by soulful bluesy vocals which hint at Kings of Leon and Pearl Jam. Its only mid set when Rich takes on the role of lead vocals for Round and Round do we get a slightly slower section, which punctuated by the aforementioned F**k Me Up, also leads into a short solo for Johnny before we’re diving headlong into the closing few numbers including Seratonia and their biggest hit single Lydia. Starting off with its repetitive guitar chords and bleak lyrics, it launches into a huge powerhouse of a song that’s going to be a live favourite for a long time and embodies everything that’s prompted so much interest in them. It’s the memories, pain suffering and consequences of a break up in all summed up in 4 minutes.
The evening ends with the frantic and almost punkish Claudeland with its rallying call of “dance mother f****r, dance the night away” and they leave the crowd of 150 very sweaty but very happy punters to enjoy the rest of the night having received a lesson in how to play grungy, edgy blues rock with attitude but without the clichés. Good luck in the Grammy’s boys!
Highly Suspect at Our Black Heart, Camden Monday 8th February
Review and Photography by Andy Sampson. Andy has more of his photography here on his personal website: www.soundritual.co.uk