The grandeur of o2 Forum Kentish Town stood glistening in the late evening sun on a scorching day in London as the local area was overtaken by keen Peach Pit fans queuing outside or frequenting local pubs. Even before the first jangly guitar notes sounded, I could tell that this was going to be a special night. I was about to see a band that thrives on fan support playing its largest UK show to date.
My expectations were vindicated pretty much immediately as the band took to the stage. Rapturous cheers (which returned after the end of each track as well as intermittently during the many instrumental sections) greeted the Vancouver quartet, accompanied by Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Dougal Bain; yet, they were anything but overcome by the outpouring of adoration from fans who had waited almost four years to the day they last performed in London (and in a venue nearly 3 times the size of the Scala).
The crowd instantly notes that lead guitarist, Chris Vanderkooy, is sporting a double-fretted guitar, which further garners the air of something special in the room. The band then open with a smooth jam around the twelve-bar blues structure of Robert Johnson’s ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’, segueing perfectly into ‘Brian’s Movie’ from their second album. You can hear the delicious fret slides from Vanderkooy’s double-fretter resonate in this large, packed space.
There’s not a moment during the entire set where lead singer Neil Smith, Vanderkooy, bassist Peter Wilton or Bain aren’t dancing to their own rhythms and melodies; in this regard, they mirror the standing and the many supposed-to-be seated-but-actually-standing members of the audience. There’s an especially well-observed moment of motionlessness during the pause at the end of the first line of ‘Almighty Aphrodite’. Both crowd and band come to a standstill. Earlier in the set, during a crunchier version of crowd-pleaser ‘Vickie’, they ever-so-slightly suspend the end of the track. Even the moshpit grinds to a halt and starts cheering. The band then restarts, the mosh resumes, and for thirty seconds or less bedlam occurs.
Each band member provides an integral part of the performance. Drummer Mikey Pascuzzi is infallible throughout. His beats keep the band together and enable the surf rock/blues spirit which flows throughout Peach Pit’s music to come to the fore. This is especially noticeable in a solo breakdown during ‘Live at the Swamp’, where his demisemiquavers are exactly on beat. Wilton’s masterful basslines and runs also deliver the backing for the smooth chord transitions Peach Pit have perfected.
Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Dougal Bain is positioned at the back on a raised ledge, yet his Hammond Organ provision is central to the psychedelic twist which makes the band’s sound so infectious and joyful. Vanderkooy on lead guitar delivers every solo, lick or riff with such panache that, in some instances such as ‘Black Licorice’ or ‘Being So Normal’, you can tell how much the rest of the band enjoys playing alongside him through their facial reactions.
Lead singer Smith, though, does not just provide the goods on the vocals; he’s also fantastic at playing the darling of the masses. Mid-set, he asks Pascuzzi to share his favourite thing about the UK. “Naked Attraction”, he duly replies; for a band that portrays itself and is welcomed by stoner culture, it makes complete sense. Later in the set, Smith asks who’s seen the band before, or whether this is some people’s first-ever gig. After jokingly calling those who screamed at the last question “newbies”, he shares a brilliant story of his first concert: Nickelback, a band seemingly the complete opposite of Peach Pit in everything bar nationality. “I was twelve, and I didn’t even like them that much, but my friend had tickets… I listened to their CD for 2 weeks straight and then had a great time”. These moments of fan interaction make the room feel smaller; it’s almost as if we’re attending an intimate party hosted by a friend.
They’re not stingy with their setlist, either. Halfway through, Smith shouts “London, we’re going back to the beginning. WOOHOO”; the band then proceed to play two tracks from their debut 2016 EP, Sweet FA, including the title track and ‘Drop the Guillotine’. Both have exemplary guitar solos and delicate, delicious vocals, whilst Smith whirls his Sideshow Bob-esque hair endlessly.
The latter part of their main set includes more chilled cuts, such as the Americana-tinged ‘Look Out!’, where drummer Pascuzzi transforms into a crowd charming mouth accordionist, and closer ‘Hot Knifer’, which includes a lush addition of Bain on violin, taking the beloved first album cut to the next level. The band then slowly, one by one, leave the stage, each receiving cheers of their endeavours; Pascuzzi even delights with further mouth accordion whilst departing; the founders of the band, Smith and Vanderkooy, are left embracing for a while before they too exit.
The demanding London crowd isn’t satiated, however. Seconds after the band left the stage, chants in support of an encore erupt. After ‘performing’ the adequate wait, we’re reunited with the Canadians and treated to three more of their tracks: the brilliant ‘Everything About You’, a delicate love song with tinges of Radiohead mixed with Courtney Barnett; the summer anthem ‘Seventeen’, with its odes to “beer-stained” minds and high school desire; and the song which many had been waiting to hear all night, ‘Tommy’s Party’. This track is beloved by the crowd that some were even singing along to the high-pitch guitar notes during the instrumentals. A ballad on record, it becomes a definite indie anthem. Smith and Vanderkooy headbang together back-to-back before Peach Pit’s performance definitively ends with the most exquisite jam of the evening.
Well, sort of. Instead of leaving the stage in the style of most bands (think of all the band members standing with interlocked arms at the front of the stage), Darude ‘Sandstorm’ blasts out from the PA. Vanderkooy crowd surfs the length of the front pit. It’s pure delirium. The joy around the entire venue explodes for a good two to three minutes before the guitarist is pulled out and the band finally take their leave. It’s a fitting end to a concert where the distance between band and crowd felt ever so slight – literally uniting them as one.
Words by Matthew Prudham
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