Into the Pit: 176: Six By Seven – Live at The Lexington N1 – 24-July 2013

2013 has been a mightily odd year for music. While we’ve seen, for better or worse, no end of bands returning after long breaks, reforming or just keeping on going – with a seeming lack of new bands in certain areas – it has been quite astounding just how good many of those returns have been. And as I’d hoped when seeing the band live on their first two appearances in London this year, this third appearance and the recently released new album have confirmed absolutely that we can add Six By Seven to the list of triumphant returns.

It wasn’t as if it wasn’t already becoming clear after the first two gigs that the new album (Love and Peace and Sympathy) was going to be something special, but this show just helped to ram it home (perhaps the now familiar nature of the songs helped). But anyway, before the main event, we had a local (and announced at very short notice) support act.

Disclosure time, perhaps. I know a couple of the members of Desperate Journalist, but as always in my reviews I do my best to be impartial and concentrate on my views of the music that I hear. In this case, I was impressed – I’d heard good things from friends already, and their recommendations were spot-on. Ostensibly a female-fronted alternative rock band, with particular influences bubbling up to the surface from 90s alt-rock and even the odd bit of 80s post-punk, they have a strong set of songs and a striking frontwoman in JoJo, who despite not moving much onstage absolutely dominates everything through her extraordinary voice. Initially, it sounds as if she has a disinterested, slightly flat tone, but such perceptions are thrown out of the window with moments of impassioned delivery that burst out of the stage like solar flares. Pick of their songs is the lead single from their recent EP, Cristina, where there is a distinct Sugarcubes-meets-powerpop feel to brilliant effect, while Kitten built to a torrid, furious climax that had JoJo nearly screaming the refrain before the rampage screeches to a halt. Not everything is perfect onstage, but they are still a newish band, and they will tighten up more in time, so happy to cut them some slack on that front. Get the EP here.

Six By Seven setlist:
The Rise and Fall and Decline of Everything
Standing In The Light
Fall Into Your Arms

So Close
Eat Junk Become Junk

Onto the headliners, and Chris Olley has been pretty vocal in recent months, especially at shows, about not being beholden to the past of Six By Seven, and has made that abundantly clear at his other recent London shows. At both of them, the main set was the entire new (nine-track) album, and only at the second show was one old song played – and this time wasn’t too different. The main set was once again the whole of Love and Peace and Sympathy, but now I’m better acquainted with the album, I have absolutely no problem with this.

Because, well, this is the strongest 6×7 release in many, many years – probably since the furious storm that was The Closer You Get – and live they sound even better. The band were always better, for me, when brooding away in the shadows, with songs of bitterness and loss, and occasional bursts of ridiculously intense fury – and this is exactly what this album, and the live set, provides. Some songs are more reserved, like opener Change, which floats along through a chiming riff, as Chris Olley spells out his hopes for someone, but as the song finally erupts, it appears that hope is misplaced.

This sets the stall out nicely for the rest of the set, and while all songs were fantastic, there were particular moments that had our jaws on the floor. Like the past two times, Truce was once again the towering, stormy centrepiece. Seemingly a bit longer again (it is already nine minutes long), with an extra few lines added to the vocals late on, it’s thunderous mid-section (Steve Hewitt’s best ever drumming, for sure) and close-out are a colossal assault on the senses, while Olley’s glowering vocals for the quieter verses provide an obvious pointer towards the storm to come, and if anyone needs proof or reassurance of how good the reformed band are, I’ll simply point to this.

Other standout moments included the quite glorious Standing In The Light – seven minutes of teasing build that shows admirable restraint in never letting loose, while the closing Fall Into Your Arms, a languid, yearning ballad that does let loose in the end, with a wonderful maelstrom of sound finally ending the set. And confirming, once again, just how brilliant as a whole the new album is.

Happily, there was an encore, and this time, there was more than one “old” Six By Seven song played. The pretty, delicate intro of So Close was a great start as before, before exploding into that muscular groove again, but here was eclipsed by an extremely popular (judging by the roar from the crowd as he teased the riff) airing of an absolutely scorching Eat Junk Become Junk. A song so dominated by it’s pummelling rhythm clearly suits Steve Hewitt well, and as Chris Olley did battle with his guitar, tearing out the riffs and barking the hate-fuelled vocals, it was a quick glimpse to a point back when Six By Seven were one of the angriest bands in existence at the turn of the millenium. That they are perhaps now a little calmer, a little less furious, is no bad thing. Chris Olley has just learned to channel his fury in different ways, being that bit more subtle for the most part, and it’s all that much more unsettling – and thrilling – as a result.

A real “against the odds” story, the one of Six By Seven. Hyped by the indie-press originally, who I suspect never really quite “got” what they were trying to do, and as Six By Seven got even better by their second album, the fashions in the “scene” had changed. And after many years of struggle, a period of being dormant, and now their triumphant resurrection, they well deserve the plaudits heading their way so far, and here’s hoping the momentum built up again can get the attention (and sales) they have deserved for so many years.

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