The Black Heart, a pub situated deep within an increasingly gentrified Camden, is a public house that caters for fans of punk and various strengths of metal. Their nights, which can involve more than one genre, are either sold as an event you’re free to roam without a ticket or patrons are asked to hand over their disposable income on a pay-per-view basis.
From the first note, it was clear Romances had taken their sound to a level I hadn’t previously witnessed. Sure, they’d impressed me before, but this was something else. Perhaps it was also the presence of Artur King, on sound engineering duty, that allowed such perfection to be possible.
My night began under resting red lights, with occasional flashes of white, which acted like flares that JJ Abrams made his name from when Star Trek was rebooted for a new generation. I couldn’t help but smile as these beams, that weren’t exactly imposing to any naked eyes, became an issue during Blind Pilgrim’s set.
The opening band sounded like a dirty urban rock act, channelling early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Kings of Leon with a bit of Jet thrown in, which wasn’t a surprise given their bio indicated they were a Blues outfit that was inspired by Americana rather than any British bravado.
They made a mistake, in my opinion, which I’ve been told King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard have made a career from. That problem was them making their songs so indistinguishable from one another that their set simply became thirty minutes of music with barely any space for us to show our appreciation.
At one point, a song seemed to slow and almost stop before a new one took over.
I found myself moving to place my hands together, on multiple occasions, before repeatedly lowering them because it was unclear when silence would descend upon our ears. The crowd did manage a brief interjection, where their applause was rapturous, but after that, you could feel a sense of apprehension as no one wanted to react at an inappropriate moment.
They were led by a frontman whose voice was so strong that he was able to reach down into the pit of his stomach and turn its anguish into lyrics that soared above those around him. He made me think that blues musicians must carry a more obvious pain that those of any other genre.
L Sicaro was up next with a performance I found to possess good and bad points. Their musicianship appeared quite exquisite, thanks to some amazing guitar skills, but the lead vocalist wasn’t entirely to my taste. I felt he got too close to his mic and that caused a bit of an issue with some unclear lyrics. That being said, with an increase in distance and intensity, there was still a lot to admire.
I also detected an in-joke in some chants from well-wishers that made it seem like the band were performing to an audience that was already there’s rather than engaging with anyone new.
That’s not to say such a thing is bad because everyone brings people to their gigs for moral support. It’s just that sometimes those not in the know, regarding banter between those on stage and their entourage, can feel less inclined to step forward and involve themselves in what’s going on in front of them when they’re clearly not part of some apparent camaraderie.
My favourite moment of inclusivity involved L Sicario’s singer and a bit of humour around England’s World Cup exploits. He said: “I heard a rumour earlier… It’s coming come!” An inevitable shout of “YES!” followed before a woman starting singing Three Lions by herself.
Football certainly has an ability to unite everybody!
I did enjoy a song where their drummer, dressed in an old retro version of our national team’s shirt, suddenly took lead vocals. This is because I’ve always been fascinated with how it’s possible to both sing and effectively use your sticks when you’re responsible for timekeeping.
Basically, it felt like their better moments came when they employed consistent backup vocals.
Romances, a five-piece rock act based in central London, emerged from backstage around 9.20pm. I asked Alex Marchisone, their drummer, why they were scheduled to be on so early and he told me there wasn’t any particular reasoning behind the decision.
Not long before everything was due to begin, Artur King, Black Heart’s sound engineer walked over to check everything was ready for his next charges. He immediately recognised me, from events like from Rock the Boat, so we both smiled and engaged in a high-five.
Keen not to distract anyone further, I stepped aside and let everyone get on with their jobs.
Christian Mendoza, a self-employed guitarist from Mexico, gave me my first favourite moment of Romances set. I saw, seconds after their sound started flowing through our individual auditory systems, him throwing away earplugs that seemed to be impacting on his senses.
They were thrown down, in obvious disgust, during a moment where every member of the band was employed in thrusting their heads forwards so they could then snap them back before repeating this motion ad infinitum.
Jesse Smith, their vocalist, gave an outstanding performance. Not only through some notable acts of showmanship, which were evident in both how he held himself and made sure all vocals remained intelligible despite a loud backline, but also because of his actions in building a mosh pit.
James Ashby, one of Romances numerous guitarists, jumped down from the stage and landed directly in front of me. He was so close that I was forced to retreat, with my camera hastily swung to safety, as jubilant attendees threw themselves into a temporary melee.
Jesse held out his mic stand, as if inviting a tussle, but only I was looking at him. Everyone else was too busy, looking around, trying to work out where they’d next receive a helping hand that would push them into someone who would repeat this favour.
Although this move was most likely calculated, pre-meditation doesn’t always work.
On this occasion, they made history for themselves.
“We’re gonna be playing London until we die!” Jesse calmly informed us, as Romances set moved steadily towards its conclusion. “And some other places!” another member helpfully added before the band threw themselves into a finale that involved a new track along with some more familiar tunes.
According to Billy Ray Cyrus, they’re a band we should all pay attention to, so I doubt it’ll be too long before intimate shows like this are a thing of the past.