Deaf Havana – Oxford O2 Academy 2, 09/07/15

Last April, I saw Deaf Havana perform a sold out show at the Oxford O2 Academy, so when it was announced that they’d be playing a festival warm-up show in the smaller venue upstairs there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be there to witness this. Their first show of 2015, and their first show since recording new material, it was sure to be utterly unmissable.
Opening band The Gospel Youth have been getting some coverage on Rock Sound recently, so when they were announced as support I was interested to see what they’d be like in a live environment. While the first half of the set wasn’t anything too unique, the second half of their set was mind-blowing, especially when you take into consideration the fact that they’ve only been a band since December.
Throughout their first couple of songs, I couldn’t stop myself drawing comparisons to Yellowcard, Kids In Glass Houses and Deaf Havana – meaning that this support slot was a match made in heaven – but for their last three songs they really stepped up their game and played their best songs one after the other. The contrast between the speedy and hooking and the slow and melancholic ‘If She’s The Rope’ was bravely done, but their risk definitely paid off because showing a range like that this early in a career is astounding. Final song ‘Empires’ kicked it up into the highest gear of the entire set, and with a bit of crowd participation on the “oh, oh, ohs” it showed that the band had converted some people into fans by the end of their half an hour slot. After proclaiming “we have been The Gospel Youth. We are not a Christian rock band, we are far from that!” and going on to perform a song with the repeated lyric “sing hallelujah” it seemed a bit ironic, but it stuck in my head all the more so for that.
With a voice that sounds like the British edition of Cody Carson, Sam Little really gives this band something to make them stand out in the UK scene. After hearing him do an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for a fan after the show his voice is as spectacular – if not more – in a closer vicinity. However, even with such an amazing vocalist the rest of the band still shined throughout the set, with riffs weaving through the songs that hint towards the grand ambitions the band must have for themselves. The musical risks that they’re taking at this stage of their existence points towards magical goings on in the future. 
If you’re interested in checking out The Gospel Youth, their EP, ‘Kids’, is available free on Bandcamp. At the show I managed to pick up a sample of their new EP, ‘Empires’, so come back in the next couple of days and I should have a review of those four tracks up for you.

Setlist: (H.L.B might not be right, but the rest of the setlist is correct. Apologies!)
Stay Positive
Lighting Fires
H.L.B
Kids
Homesick
If She’s The Rope
Empires

This was my fifth time seeing Deaf Havana, and only my second time seeing a headline show, but their performance was absolutely phenomenal. I don’t actively listen to Deaf Havana much – there’s no reason why, it just seems to keep slipping my mind – but every time I see them in a room like this it just blows my mind how brilliant they are.
Starting off with an alternative version of ‘The Past Six Years’ that was much more Mumford and Sons than Deaf Havana was a genius move – many people didn’t recognise the song instantly, but as soon as they saw what the band was doing it got the crowd so much more excited. With vocalist James Veck-Gilodi playing a tambourine throughout ‘I Will Try’, it definitely cemented how eclectic the show was going to be – this is not a band who are happy to disappoint, and for their first show in 2015 it had to be something remarkable. 

And remarkable it was. Running through all of their greatest songs, from ‘Leeches’ to ‘Boston Square’ (which still reminds me of Green Day’s ‘Know Your Enemy’ combined with a CSI theme tune…) and round to ’22’, I was impressed by how brilliant the set was that they created – there were no moments that seemed throwaway or unnecessary, it was just great song after great song, with singalong moments at every possible opportunity. Putting in two acoustic songs (‘Saved’ and ‘Anemophobia’, the latter of which kicked into the full band version at the end in a genius musical vision) also added to the special atmosphere coming out of this set – I’d forgotten how beautiful Matthew Veck-Gilodi’s vocal could be, so when James and he performed ‘Saved’ together I had shivers running down my spine, it was so breathtakingly beautiful. The same thing happened towards the end of the set as well, during ‘Mildred (Lost A Friend)’ and I really hope the band put more co-vocals on their new album.
This wasn’t a typical Deaf Havana show, and you could tell how much thought and effort they’d put in to their first show in eight months. Someone else who had obviously been putting in the effort was stand-in drummer Craig Reynolds, who was astounding. Permanent drummer Tom Ogden has taken a brief hiatus from the band to spend time with his wife and new daughter, so Craig had to learn 16 songs in three days, and by how flawlessly he drummed on each and every single song, it’s obvious that they picked the right man for the job. James told everyone how disappointed Tom was to be missing the shows, how he “was adamant he wanted to play these shows” but after his wife had to have a cesarean there wasn’t really another option for him. However, there were a poignant few minutes towards the end of the set when the band face-timed him, getting the crowd to scream “oggy, oggy, oggy” and announcing “we love you, we miss you, see you soon”. 
Everything seemed improved from the last time I’d seen them. As well as performing alternative versions (as well as ‘The Past Six Years’, we had a beautiful version of ‘Friends Like These’ that finally made it feel complete without a screaming vocalist) and acoustics, the regular versions of the songs that they were performing were still fabulous, and I don’t think a single member of the crowd was disappointed. For such a small warm-up show, I’d been expecting it to be quite understated, so that the band could blow away the crowd at their 2000 Trees headlining slot, but it was quite the opposite – the guys all threw so much into this show that I’m unsure if they’ll have any energy left for the festival! The level of interaction with the crowd had also improved from the last time I saw them, with James saying that it was an “insanely hot room. I know I’m not in the best physical shape, but god!” but that “even the sweaty room we’re in isn’t putting a dampener on my evening” and then educating us on the fact that beer actually does the opposite of hydrate you, prompting an angry beer-loving heckler to scream out “liar!”, causing quite a lot of laughs with the band. 
My personal highlight of the evening was new song ‘Trigger’. I’d been expecting new material to be performed at the show, but James told the crowd that the band would rather only play one song, because people prefer having songs that they can sing along to (and it would have been unfair on Craig to need to learn 17 songs!). With their Facebook profile picture still being a nondescript black square with a white four in the corner, it’s a sure sign that there’s going to be an album announcement sooner rather than later. If you’d like to hear ‘Trigger’ yourself, you can see the video I captured at the show down below…

I’m interested to know what you think of ‘Trigger’, and how excited you are about where Deaf Havana will go with their new album – I definitely think it’s going to be their best, and I’m highly anticipating it. If you have any thoughts, please leave them down in the comments!

With the knowledge that Deaf Havana nearly didn’t make it through 2014, it’s amazing that they’ve come back from so close to the edge to perform a show like this to so many loyal fans. Boos echoed around the room when they shared the fact that they’d considered quitting, and going by the reaction I don’t think this is a band anyone will be happy to lose any time soon. I’m definitely going to be listening to them more – I can’t believe I left it so long! I certainly cannot wait for the new album – it’s going to be a new era for these guys, and I think it’s going to be bigger than ever before.

Setlist: 
The Past Six Years (alternative version)
I Will Try
I’m A Bore, Mostly
Leeches
Smiles All Round
Boston Square
Kings Road Ghosts
22
Saved (acoustic)
Anemophobia (acoustic)
Trigger (new song)
Friends Like These (alternative version)
The World Or Nothing
Mildred (Lost A Friend)
Caro Padre
Hunstanton Pier