Cracklebox

Live review from 15th Anniversary Party

1. A Little Piece of the Sun
2. Risk Factor
3. Fall With You
4. Find Our Way
5. The Malevolent Shadow

When I first saw Cracklebox singer Tim Ash onstage tonight my first reaction was – “It’s the 90s all over again!” He’s just got that skinny-trousered, tousle-haired James/The La’s/The Zutons look. So is that where the comparisons end? Well, yes and no. First things first though – before the band gets to strike a note in anger, Tim announces: “I’m going to kick things off with some performance poetry. Don’t worry, it won’t last long”. Of course we all cracked up until we realised – he was serious!

Thankfully as he promised it didn’t last long, and due to the boozed-up, noisy Saturday night Grappa’s crowd I don’t think anybody could hear it anyway, so no harm done. But for the Cracklebox uninitiated, there was something of a queasy sensation – what next? Mime? Interpretive dance? Do we all have to pretend to be trees growing out of acorns or something?

Thankfully though that was it, and in fact Tim turned out to be a super-amusing gag-a-minute guy. Even at the end of the set, when he was picking a raffle ticket he had a good (if slightly dodgy) line – “this reminds me of my uni days – you just closed your eyes and put your hand in.” What was your degree in again Tim?

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Suddenly they’re into song one, “A Little Piece of the Sun” and immediately we all get it. Tim’s pogo-ing all over the stage like a whirling dervish, the band’s brilliant, everyone’s dancing – or kind of drunkenly swaying, at least. Tim’s got a great, soaring tenor and this is a seriously good pop track – why aren’t these guys stars? They exude self-belief and a great sense of fun, with their funky guitars and keyboards giving them a delicious 80s feel. And then there’s Tim’s dancing! What’s not to like?

Hailing from four countries, alongside Tim Ash on vocals are Tom Cowan on guitars, Diego Caro on keyboards, Nico Oudin on drums and the irrepressible Clark Cahill on bass, who may just be the most expressive four-stringer I’ve ever seen. He’s an absolute riot, and why not – these are four mates having a great time and playing some brilliant music together.

We all love Hong Kong’s indie scene, but it seems to me that jazz-rock, math-rock and clever-clever stuff of that ilk is often disproportionately held up as some kind of pinnacle here. Sure, we love those genres too, but sometimes it’s just such a joy to hear a bunch of guys just offering up some straightforward, authentic song writing and playing. And when was the last time you heard a bona fide guitar solo? Raiding your dad’s vinyl collection?

And that’s exactly what we get with Cracklebox. Yes, it’s clever, even inspired writing, but it takes its inspiration from old-school verse-chorus structures just like your musical heroes do. Clark’s bass is in integral part of the sound, as is Diego’s keyboards, but everyone plays their part to make the whole (lotta love) greater than the sum of its parts.

These guys are having a blast and would be totally at place on any stage or festival in the world. I hear influences from Bowie to Kaiser Chiefs to The Strokes, but it’s very accomplished stuff. Third track “Fall With You” starts of like an indie “Club Tropicana” with lovely electric piano and a jazzy solo, penultimate song “Find Our Way” is another funk workout with a big, bold, anthemic chorus, with Tim running through the crowd high-fiving everyone and Clark’s head looking like it’s about to detach itself (although he’d probably keep on playing if it did). Finally last track “The Malevolent Shadow” lives up to its melodramatic title with a rather theatrical “Phantom of the Opera” feel and is a fabulous way to bring things to a conclusion. The best good-time band in town? I’d say so.
– Dan Creffield

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