Tigercats / Blue House / Lewsberg – The Library, Oxford

Divine Schism, one of Oxford’s prime promoters, are organising a great run of events this spring, with Porridge Radio supporting Florist back in April and Radiator Hospital playing The Wheatsheaf this Friday. This Sunday, they have a quadruple bill featuring two Dutch bands, Venus Tropicaux and Lewsberg, the familiar-to-us Blue House, and headliners Tigercasts. It’s a varied mini-fest which leaves us wanting more.

With that many bands on the schedule, the night starts early and when we arrive Venus Tropicaux have already finished their set. Fortunately, the band shares members with their fellow Rotterdammers Lewsberg, who are up next. Their lead-singer Arie van Vliet is clearly a Dutchman: he is nearly too tall to stand up straight downstairs at the Library, and the top of his head is invisible behind a ceiling beam. Despite being the ‘frontman’ of the band, then, it is the wildly jumping around Shalita Dietrich on bass and vocals – also a member of Venus Tropicaux – who is Lewsberg’s visual centrepiece. Lewsberg quite obviously sounds like The Velvet Underground, but there are multiple ways one can sound like The VU, and Lewsberg’s way of sounding like The VU isn’t obvious at all. They take the New Yorkers’ sparseness, rather than their fuzziness, and it is Velvet Underground-era Reed’s somewhat abrupt, flatly intonated talk-singing that Van Vliet emulates, rather than the fluent glam of the later Reed that inspires a band like Nap Eyes. Put it like this: if I had to guess Lewsberg’s favourite Velvet Underground track, I’d guess ‘The Murder Mystery’.

Next, Blue House, a band we put on a year ago in this very basement. I’ll admit I haven’t quite kept up with them since then, so I am excited and curious to hear what they’ve been up to. Tonight, they are playing with a reduced line-up, somewhat halving the size of the band. This results in the odd introduction of a randomly picked keyboard drum loop providing the rhythm for one of their tracks – an experiment they’re unlikely to repeat. Despite the bare bones approach, it is nice to hear some familiar songs, such as the tragic miniature pop song ‘John The Unready’ and ‘The Weatherman’, which is one of my less favourite songs on the album, but becomes an interesting live track. Nevertheless, the richness of details that made Blue House’s music so appealing is often missing. Similarly, their new song ‘Summer Clouds’, which is a duet with Clémentine March, is slightly pale without the inclusion of the latter. Unfortunately, Blue House are only able to play four or five tracks, because by now we’ve overrun by quite a bit and Tigercats are yet to play. We thus miss out on some of their better tracks; I would have liked to hear ‘I Found My Limit’ again. Still, after seeing Blue House again I am keen to catch up with their recent activity, and with what might come.

The final band of the night is London collective Tigercats. I have to confess I’m not their biggest fan, having been unable to get into their much lauded Mysteries. I have yet to listen to their new album Pig City, though, and I did enjoy the brass-led single ‘Perfect Fried Chicken’. It is clear that Tigercats are a solid band with an original sound, incorporating African rhythms into a more traditional indie pop sound. It’s somewhat similar to what Sacred Paws are doing, but fuller and heavier. Unfortunately, Tigercats’ set is rather short as well. All in all, then, Divine Schism have organised a great night which is characterised by its variety, from the Velvet Underground-inspired rock of Lewsberg to the rhythmic indie pop of Tigercats. It leaves us wanting more, partly because of the short sets, but mainly because of the music itself. We’re already looking forward to Radiator Hospital this Friday, and hopefully Divine Schism will bring us even more goods later this year!

-- Caspar Jacobs, May 9, 2018