The Amazons have had a busy 2017, releasing their debut album, being included in the BBC Sound of 2017 and MTV Brand New 2017 lists, and being named a band to listen to in 2017 by NME, The Independent, and Radio 1. 2018 looks just as busy, they’re in the middle of a UK tour and already appearing on a lot of this year’s festivals line-ups. We became part of their ‘tribe’ at the Cambridge Junction.
The Junction is a great venue for getting close up to the action. It is purpose built on the old cattle market site and holds a capacity of 850 people. The acoustics are always good and it is basically a square space with a small stage against one wall, the mixing desk normally against the opposing wall, and the rest of the dark space for the crowd. Small bars either side mean you can get cold drinks without missing the action. It’s also very well set up for people with disabilities with helpful staff on hand, so it is pretty much all that a music venue should be.
The night started with support from the excellent Yonaka from Brighton who have also been gathering plaudits after the release of their EP, Heavy. It’s easy to see why with the charismatic singer Theresa Jarvis taking to the stage. They delivered nine numbers with attitude, from the opening number, Ignorance, to their probably best-known track, Bubblegum.
Yonaka threw everything into their performance. With heavy riffs and powerful vocals they knew how to work the crowd. Yonaka will be at some of the same festivals as The Amazons, and have more lined up. I would recommend catching them if you can.
There was no doubt that the support act had done their job. After the re-arranging of the stage, the “Amazons, Amazons” chanting started. We were ready for the main event. The band swaggered onto the stage, Matt Thomson put down his pint and draped a starburst jazz guitar around his neck with purpose, and went straight into Stay With Me. He delivered his vocal in a whisper, in the hope that he would hear the crowd singing it back. He was not disappointed. At the end of the track he raised his guitar aloft and gave out a whoop.
Bathed in violet light they went straight into Ultraviolet. With everyone totally immersed in the performance in front of them, when Chris Alderton swapped his guitar for a black Les Paul he faced a transfixed audience. During Raindrops each showed what they could do. Chris played a heavy solo with echo and reverb, Elliot Briggs added a driving bassline, and Joe Emmett played a tribal drum beat with cymbals crashing, and Matt did what Matt does best. Showmanship, stage craft, and song writing merged to great effect.
Three songs in and Thomson addressed the crowd with a “Cambridge how the fuck are ya?” and then, referring to the current controversy over the different versions of Y Not Festival line-ups, proclaimed “We are the Sherlocks” before the band crashed out Burn my Eyes. It makes you wonder if the controversy will die down or this is the start of another musical feud.
The Amazons treated the crowd to a new song, Howling, with a set which was engulfed in smoke and red lights. This seemed like a good place in the set to introduce a new track. With the second half of the gig to go, they had plenty of time to whip it up again. After Night Driving, Matt told us that the last time they played in Cambridge, they played in the Portland Arms. This is a key music venue in Cambridge but, at a capacity of 200, The Junction shows how far they have progressed.
Matt played a set of flamenco chords on his jazz guitar and proclaimed: “When I play this chord, something cool is going to happen”. But when he only switched it out for an acoustic guitar for Holy Roller, you were left wondering what this cool thing was. All was soon to become apparent. After the track crashed to an end, he invited Theresa Jarvis from the aforementioned Yonaka onto the stage for In My Mind, met with a sea of phones being raised to record it.
With the changed dynamic this number became a duet, which worked really well from its stripped back start to when it went full throttle. Matt’s and Theresa’s voices worked well together and it is worth saying that Theresa dominated the stage with her presence and attitude. Little did we know but this was not going to be the only cool thing that was to happen.
Joe Emmett had been sitting at the back as drummers do, doing what he does very well. Now it was his turn to be centre stage. A spotlight lit up his purple drum kit and he really let loose. His drum solo started with him making it sound like a machine gun, then giving a pounding tribal beat, as he had done during a lot of the tracks but this time turned up to notch 11, and it ended with cymbals crashing as if his life depended on it. I suspect that if they hadn’t left for Portsmouth, those cymbals would still be shaking now!
Maybe Matt had been right about cool things happening after the flamenco chords. Little Something started conventionally enough. The red lighting diffused through the smoke accentuated the band as they worked up the classic riff that goes through the song. The riff got heavier and heavier until the track morphed into 20th Century Boy. Alderton was crouched on the front of the stage surveying the heaving mass in front of him. The song ended full of echo and bass and a spotlight on the stage.
The finale was upon us. With a backlit stage silhouetting the band, the distinctive intro of Black Magic kicked in. The violet lighting returned as The Amazons built up a wall of sound, strobes then kicked in as the song morphed into Millions. Effects cascaded down the wall, the engineer at the desk seemed to be creating this atmosphere effortlessly with deft finger work that suggests he could knock out a pretty good riff himself. Playing a long outro with Joe Emmett’s cymbals taking another beating before a swath of bright light. Then complete darkness, the band were gone!
The crowd were chanting “One more song, one more song”. Matt did not leave them waiting too long. A double spotlight shone on him sitting at a piano. He said: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t think this would be as fucking awesome as it was.” I think the crowd agreed. Judging by the look of some of those in the Junction, some were physically exhausted, some were walking wounded after being in the middle of the chaos, but all were having a great time.
As if to give them some respite, this time it was just a spotlit Matt on stage with piano and one of the few ballads The Amazons have in their arsenal. Palace demonstrated the richness and control of his voice. Towards the end another double spot for Chris, who accompanied the second half of the number with some stripped-back riffs. The band finished on Junk Food Forever as you would predict, for one final blast, final killer riffs, cymbal bashing, and a frantic light show.
It seems that the band have taken their time to return to Cambridge since their last gig in the Portland Arms, but they have grown and progressed in that time. The show was frenzied in places, certainly packed its fair share of surprises, and showed why The Amazons have had the accolades they have. They are a band on the up, and must be looking forward to playing the festival circuit this year. They bewitched the ‘tribe’ with black magic of their own from the first opening riff of Stay With Me, to the dying shockwaves of the final chord, and the ‘tribe’ loved every minute of it.
Live Music Review by Tony Creek & Photography by Paul Lyme of The Amazons live at Cambridge Junction on 8th February 2018.