Having missed them earlier in the year I was pretty chuffed when I spotted that The Cosmic Dead were playing in London, along with no less than Mugstar, as I’d been making noises about seeing them again for well over a year and was completely blown away Mugstar’s mesmerising performance at this year’s Kozfest.
So with two of us travelling up from the now all-but culturally barren South Coast, and picking up a third upon arriving in East Barnet, we all three made our way nervously over to the venue which is not far from Stoke Newington. I say nervously on account of having discovered through social media that The Cosmic Dead had been struck down by a vehicle failure the night before, and that Mugstar were down to three men for some unspecified reason.
Fearing the worst, i.e. a marooned Cosmic Dead and a below-strength Mugstar, we sought out the entrance to the somewhat curiously named Total Refreshment Centre, which is nestled away at the bottom of a dead end street, and whose door was dwarfed by the imposing metal gates of The Chocolate Factory, which sit alongside and were somewhat evocative of the famous Roald Dahl book.
Fortunately our fears for the The Cosmic Dead were almost immediately allayed when the band suddenly emerged en masse and trooped off in search of food. We threaded our way through the entrance, and on into the courtyard and venue at the behest of a Total Refreshment Centre chap, who seemed keen that we didn’t annoy their neighbours in the residential street. Once inside we discovered what resembled a small, re-purposed factory, complete with rudimentary bar, a tiny stage and a fairly decent sound system for such a tiny venue.
First up on stage were Vodun, a trio whose live sound felt a little underpowered compared to the stuff that I’d checked out before the show. The drums and vocals were dynamic and powerful enough, but to my mind the guitar lacked the edge, pace and power to fill in the gaps in between and really grab my attention on the night. Certainly not bad by any means, but in the end not my cup of tea either.
Next up were Mugstar, minus guitarist Neil Murphy, who was apparently pre-booked for a carol service elsewhere (I’m kidding of course: Pete Smyth did say why Neil couldn’t make it, but it was lost to a combination of my partial deafness and the ambient noise from the DJ).
Having seen them play an absolute blinder at Kozfest earlier in the year I was a little concerned at the prospect of them being a man down, but I needn’t have worried as they put on an excellent show regardless. I felt Pete had to work harder as a result, and I suspect that constrained him a little, although the enthusiastic support and riotous applause was evidence that he and the rest of the band struck the perfect balance under the circumstances.
I have seen The Cosmic Dead four times now, and they have yet to disappoint. And jitters over the previous night’s breakdown aside, tonight’s show was to be no exception to that rule, as I genuinely felt that they were at their very best.
Chatting to drummer Julian after the show it became apparent that they were incredibly frustrated at the previous night’s no-show, and that that frustration probably powered the incredibly intense, joyous performance we witnessed.
As headliners they had plenty of headroom in terms of time and appeared in no rush to finish up. They hit their stride early on and set off at a relentless, punishing pace, maintaining it until 30 minutes or so from the end when the hurtling Krautrock-powered flight through space gradually decayed into a jazzier drift back down to Earth.
The Cosmic Dead are always a pleasure to watch and simply demand audience participation through their combination of powerhouse drumming, lithe bass, wailing guitar and questing keyboards. Urged on by this and their enthusiastic, physical delivery the audience had little choice but dance, stagger, grin, clap and whoop.
And especially pleasing for me was the relatively young average age of the audience for a band whose inspiration must surely go back decades; it was great to see younger folk really getting into it and having a totally uncontrived blast in the company of older folk who would remember the birth of the various genres both bands seem to simultaneously draw inspiration from, expertly maintain and fearlessly extend.
So on balance I think it is fair to say that we had a terrific time and I have vowed not to leave it so long before I see either Mugstar or The Cosmic Dead again. And, if you get a chance to see them play, my advice is that you seize the opportunity as they are all truly excellent musicians and really nice folks to boot.
Finally, be sure to buy some merch too, as the tickets are generally dead cheap and we desperately need to keep these guys on the road and in the studio, if only for purely selfish reasons!
A word or two about the pictures: the lighting on the night was pretty low and predominantly red. I managed to filter that to produce a few decent-ish black and white shots, but the motion blur rendered them less than pleasing so I dabbled with a bit of posterization instead, which seemed to capture the mood and suit the music a lot better than bunch of blurry black and white shots.