Last night I witnessed a very special gig, including a band that wowed the audience with their very first gig ever. I went along to see Stoke-on-Trent rockers Alter Eden a few days ahead of their eagerly awaited second EP on Friday, and was then treated to a masterclass in making it up as you go along by the exciting Tactful Kactus.
This was my first trip to legendary London music venue The Fiddler’s Elbow. It’s a cool bar with good views of the main stage (not always a given!) and where you can feel the beats from the adjoining drum room pounding through the wooden floors.
First up on stage was a really good solo performer, Jay Von Cassidy. The Jersey-based singer, who told me he’s heading off travelling to America before coming to London to start a band, excelled with some wonderfully written tracks and hugely enjoyable acoustic guitar.
A particular standout track was Hell Raiser, with a whole host of cool lyrics such as “She’s on fire, shes on fire, Chelsea boots and a movie star face, I wanna be the one to save her” that show his undoubted songwriting ability. Despite having a sore throat Jay sounded superb.
Next up on stage was C.O.M.P.A.S.S, whose big bassy riffs were really enjoyable but the cool solos being mashed out by the guitarist were perhaps a little too quiet. They fluctuated between fairly light rock through to heavier tracks with big funky riffs and ending with a really cool guitar solo.
Next up was my main focus for the evening, Alter Eden. I had a chat with lead vocalist Nick Pilgrim (yes, it’s his real name) and he said the band has plenty happening this year, with the EP launch on Friday, a video coming out the same day, touring as much as they can and working with an EDM artist who is remixing a few of their tracks – which sounds interesting.
We’ll have more from Alter Eden later this week as we review their upcoming EP, but if you’re not aware of them then you need to get them on your radar. Their set began with recorded drums and background noise, big flashing nights and some eerie synth noises as Nick sat on a nearby sofa and watched the band launch into full-on rock out mode.
He soon joined them on stage and launched into a superb rendition of Colourless, from the new EP. Huge guitar riffs were perfectly complemented by Nick’s varied vocals, from big high notes through to blood curdling screams that certainly woke the crowd up.
They followed that up by getting the audience to move three steps forward before playing title track from the new EP Tigers and Lambs, with Nick’s voice sounding awesome before he jumped down from the stage, walked to the bar and ordered a pint of Fosters and continued singing from the bar then took a seat on a metal box that was conveniently placed at the front of the stage.
That was followed up with another new track Count Your Sins, which opened up with a big heavy intro then high-pitched guitar bursts supporting the vocals in the opening verse. Nick sat down on the stage then launched into a huge chorus followed by awesome screamed vocals, in a song that highlighted the great versatility of Nick’s voice from almost sounding on the point of breaking with delicate, incredible high notes through to huge screams.
Nick took a moment out to ask the audience to buy their merch at the end of the bar, and some guy decided he wanted to straight away – so Nick went to the merch stand and sold him something as he started singing the excellent Let’s Be Fearless.
They closed out with final track from the new EP We’ve Had Enough, in which it sounded like Nick was doing some crazy impressive things with his voice that made it sound distorted, then ended in a huge rock smash-out.
Alter Eden’s performance gave the headliners something special to live up to which, talking to a guy in the audience, seemed unlikely. He told me the main act were his pals from University, who had never played a gig together.
But Tactful Kactus – cool name, right? – took us all by surprise and put on an absolutely stunning show. They opened up with some funky riffs, bluesy rock then the lead guitarist launched into a high-pitched solo that was countered by the lead singer. The opening song lasted fully 15 minutes as they laid down a never-ending combination of epic solos, huge riffs and mental guitar bursts. It’s the kind of performance that makes you want to play guitar and it was an amazing way to introduce themselves.
The next song opened up with a funky riff and gruff vocals, followed by some epic Sum 41-esque riffs (I’m thinking Handle This) before descending into a bigger rockier guitar solo rock-out, which it’s only fair to describe as pure, unadulterated, raw rocky genius. This is how I imagine people felt the first time they saw Led Zeppelin get up on stage and rip their guitars up, with simply amazing musicality – especially when it was revealed by their pal in the audience that they were “100% making it up on the spot.”
They then launched into an awesome cover version of Heard It Through The Grapevine, in which it was obvious the lead singer was making up incredible solos at will including one of the greatest solos I’ve ever seen live – it was simply incredible.
They then played “the Aerosmith one” with more gruff vocals and funky guitar, in which the lead singer made a mistake, laughed it off and did a big spinning improvised solo to make up for it.
They closed the evening out with “one song we don’t know very well,” which didn’t seem too matter as they smashed into some big rock’n’roll guitar which you just want to sing along to. Half-way through the lead singer said “we didn’t realise we would get this far, it’s not finished” to which the lead guitarist said “we could just jam,” like you do!
The guitarists decided to give the bassist a bit of the limelight and he went into a naughty little bass solo, then the singer clearly forgot the words so went off into a big screechy guitar off with the other guitarist. Here’s a flavour of how good they are in the video below:
It was a breathtakingly good set that any band would have been proud of, never mind a group of uni guys playing their first ever gig. Special mention also has to go to Alter Eden, who delivered a brutally brilliant set of awesome rock music, and the excellent two support acts. But last night will undoubtedly be remembered for the first ever appearance of Tactful Kactus.