Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy!
Black Orchid Empire and Hypophora at 229 Venue 2, London
Support bands are a funny thing really. You buy a ticket for the band you’re interested in seeing and, for whatever reason, there’s a support act on the roster, often one you may not have heard of. So you don’t quite know what you are going to get. I had no idea what to expect when I saw Hypophora supporting Toska in Brighton last year but by the end of their set I knew I wanted to hear them again.
I was stoked when there was a London gig I could make where they were playing with a band called Black Orchid Empire who I’d not heard of. I checked them out on record (well stream these days) and made sure I had tickets when they played locally to me in Guildford. Just like Hypophora I knew I wanted to hear them a lot more.
All of that meant that by the time I got the 229, The Venue in Greater Portland St, I was more than a little excited about what I was going to hear. I’d been caning the albums for a week (in truth, I listen to Hypophora’s Douse and BOE’s Yugen and Archetype most weeks) and I was very up for a night of dancing. Cards on the table, I’m old so I really have no idea how to describe either band musically, I suppose Black Orchid Empire are on the heavier end of rock, Hypophora, honestly no idea, it’s rock, you could argue they sit in the proggier end of the spectrum given that they play with time signatures a lot, again it’s rock but melding a number of influences to come up with something fresh that works on the dancefloor as well as being deep enough to stand up to sustained listening.
Hypophora were up first and the first impression I got was the huge amount of energy they bring to the stage with guitarist Karum leaping around while dropping massive riffs. The whole band commit totally to the performance and as a result, from an audience perspective I was drawn into that and while I’d wanted to watch them more closely just found myself quite lost in the music.
All of Hypophora are, technically, excellent musicians but it would be remiss not to mention the enormous voice of the lead singer, Katie. While between songs she was softly spoken, when singing she brought forth a power that I’d describe as like Janis Joplin but with a softer edge. It was quite amazing to hear her hit sustained high notes. Most of all though, they gelled as a unit in a really complete way, every instrument was audible, nothing drowned anything else out it delivered an experience that was like the recorded version of Douse but with the extra energy and immediacy of the live setting. In terms of music, there are a number influences from elements of funk and almost skatepunk sounds through to full on heaviness. They are quite prog like in that there’s a lot of shifting of time signatures but whereas some bands make a huge deal of a timing change, for Hypophora it’s less a trick of the music and more just a natural progression of the song, it feels, light and unforced and airy. I’d worried that I’d been looking at Hypophora with rose tinted specs having not seen them in nearly a year but it wasn’t the case, they absolutely shook the venue.
Black Orchid Empire are another band who have the advantage of being great songwriters and musicians and also capable of delivering a thrilling live show. Although they are a 3 piece there is no shortage of power which is accentuated by the close vocal harmonisation between guitarist and lead singer Paul and bassist Dave. What I love about Black Orchid Empire is that they can get properly heavy without losing any melody. The music never grinds, the vocals are never growls, it’s just massive oil tanker sized riffs and vocal harmonisation. I could comment on the lyrics, which I really enjoy but it’s not an album review of either Archetype or Yugen (in short, check them both out).
What I do love though, lyrically, is that there are bits where it’s ok to sing a long in fact, last night we we encouraged to sing some harmonies. It may, to the jaded observer, sound a bit cheesy but it wasn’t, it worked in a tiny club and it would work in a stadium. Likewise, the chorus of my personal favourite, Celebrity Summer is built for singing ‘You can’t say anything, without saying nothing at all’ and I did sing it, as loud as I could, which was not very loud because I was utterly wasted from having danced like a loon. It’s the scale of Black Orchid Empire that blows my mind though. The venue I went to last night was a cool underground dive club with, no doubt, a relatively small capacity, but this music is built for big stadiums. A few weeks back I was lucky enough to see the Who at Wembley, the opening act was a blues trio who played well enough but looked, for all the world, like they would rather be anywhere else. It seems mad that Black Orchid Empire play a tiny club as if there are 10,000 fans and I’m seeing bored dudes playing in Wembley. That being said, the first time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins they were playing in a relatively small venue and now they pack out the biggest places. It’s not a perfect comparison but that’s where my mind keeps going with Black Orchid Empire.
Their approach seems to be, like the Pumpkins, that they have a massive canvas to work with and they’re absolutely comfortable in doing that. If there’s any justice in the world BOE will be playing massive venues in short order. The music is heavy enough to attract metal heads, melodic and catchy enough to have mass appeal and clever enough to keep even the most curmudgeonly of beard stroker involved.
I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years, some of whom got massive, some of whom didn’t. I’m pretty convinced I saw two bands whose stars are, rightly, in the ascendant last night. If you do get a chance to see or listen to Black Orchid Empire or Hypophora I would grab that opportunity with both hands as it’ll be a very special experience.