Tuesday May 21, 2019
It’s perhaps appropriate that Sons of An Illustrious Father play this evening’s gig in the middle of a Shoreditch-side street, connecting to busier main roads at each end. A bit under the radar (though one of the band members, Ezra Miller, is a world famous actor), to be found off the main drag where the disenfranchised outsiders gather. OK, this might be a slight over-dramatisation, but nevertheless, the band is very much presented as a band of outsiders, playing to a crowd of outsiders, in a venue that identifies as ‘underground’.
One can argue about what an ‘outsider’ or being ‘underground’ is these days. Since we live in a time where it’s trendy and cool to be a self-confessed ‘outsider’, ‘nerd’ or ‘weirdo’, we may have to redefine what these terms actually mean. But that’s another discussion.
This evening at the Village Underground, the Sons of An Illustrious Father hold court for a full house. The band, other than Miller, are Josh Aubin and Lilah Larson. They all switch between lead- and backing-vocals, and all available instruments; bass, guitar, drums, keyboards. The vocals are dramatic and expressive which works well with the sometimes complicated music; almost a kind of Expressionism, as if translating an Egon Schiele painting into a song.
At one point the three band members sing an accapella-cover of Ella’s Song, ‘We who believe in freedom, cannot rest until it comes…Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me, I need to be just in the number as we stand against tyranny.’ It’s a beautiful song which is originally about a tribute to African-American civil rights activist, Ella Baker, and is about fighting for equality between black and white people. In this evening’s abridged version, the message comes across as a message for activists in general, but perhaps with an emphasis on queer people being free from the shackles of prejudice. But maybe that’s me reading too much into it. Another cover, is of Pussycat Dolls-hit, Don’t Cha (Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me), which is transformed into a slightly slower and darker version than the original. The song suits the band, and the band suits the song.
To my ears a lot of the songs, most of which I haven’t heard before, sound like the results of a band that are perhaps trying to cram a bit too much into each of them, instead of spreading the goodies out a bit more. A result of refusing to try keeping things a bit more simple. This, to me, means that some songs sound a bit over the place. The three members are good singers and musicians and have a lot of energy and emotions they want to hammer, strum and scream out there, but I feel their songwriting and execution of the songs would benefit from more structure and reining-in of all the melodramatic energy. After a while, I find myself almost a bit bored. Which is a shame, because the band clearly have a lot of skill and lot to say. Highlights for me, are definitely when they manage to keep it a bit more simple. An example of this is the song EG (‘I crossed the great horizon, to find that nothing was there’), which might be my favourite of the set, sung by Aubin, with a fat, pulsing bass by Larson and drumming by Miller, accentuating the spaces between the words in a slightly jazzy style, which works really well.
The last song (followed by one encore) is US Gay. There are references to Matthew Shepard (who was beaten to death in a homophobic assault in 1998 and who has inspired many articles, songs, films, documentaries and discussions) and Valerie Solanas (who wrote her own feminist manifesto, SCUM – reported to stand for ‘Society for Cutting Up Men’ though not confirmed – and after being let down and feeling humiliated by Andy Warhol, she tried to assassinate the legendary artist in 1968).
The choice of a gay man being the victim of a violent attack and a lesbian woman being the executor of a violent attack, is an interesting upside down focus, considering we live in a world where women most often are the victims of violent attacks by men. It does give the song an extra sense of uneasy poignancy.
Most of all the song is an encouragement to live one’s life with urgency and conviction, and the first evocative lines of the song are a perfect way to sum up this concert: ‘If I don’t die tonight, I’m gonna dance until I do, And if you’re not too afraid, I wanna dance with you’.
And one final thing. That photographer who stood in front of the stage for not just the first three songs – which is usually considered good form for photographers at a gig – but the WHOLE gig, could learn to be more considerate towards those people standing behind her who’s paid to be there. She stood in the way of several people throughout the gig instead of only for three songs. Ask yourself, do you need a whole gig to take enough good photographs?.
Sons of An Illustrious Father setlist