A place with so much history that first opened its doors in 1875 – it’s mind-boggling when you think about the fact that Alexandra Palace Theatre was hidden away for 80 years to be re-discovered and restored only a few years ago.
Tonight, Deaf Havana were set to breathe new life into the place. 2019 rock coming to gatecrash victorian history, if you will – and not many bands would have fit the bill as well as they do. Billed as ‘The Final Ritual’, Deaf Havana brought their alluring, atmospheric mix of rock and synth-pop to the place, etching their eerie sounds into the no-longer crumbling walls, to become part of the start of the new era of Alexandra Palace Theatre. Modern history in the making.
AJ Tracey over in the Great Hall and Deaf Havana in the Theatre on the same night – it’s pretty much 2019 musically summed up. Rumour has it that Tracey himself skipped his own set to watch the Havana boys throw down their classic tracks. Ok, that’s definitely not true, but maybe in a few hundred years, people will be talking about the era that our very own ‘people’s palace’ Ally Pally was booming; fans of different musical persuasions all together in one place to see the artists at the top of their respective genres.
It might not be the exact vision Alexandra Palace’s founders had for the place when it first opened – I hear the showing of ankles and excessive drinking was frowned upon back then – but the essence is there. So tonight, we were drinking Deaf Havana’s very own specially brewed Rituals beer on tap and wondering why on earth they didn’t bother actually re-painting some of the plaster-covered walls during the restoration of the place.
Not only for the fact that tonight was in support of War Child, with £1 from each ticket sale going to the charity, the night was set to be something a bit different to your regular gig – we were being treated to two sets from the band. The first, latest album Rituals played in full, back to front, and the second a set of classics – whatever that meant.
During the first set, we really saw Rituals come to life on stage. Many full album sets can be tedious, but Rituals has more than enough substance and mystique to have made the 45 minutes fly by and keep the crowd engaged and in awe of the huge sounds these four men are capable of bringing to a room that was literally built to be a main source of entertainment for North London. I have a feeling that this is definitely near to the mark of what the founders had in mind.
An odd start for a rock concert, opening with the one-verse, largely instrumental album closer track ‘Epiphany’ – Deaf Havana affirmed that they’re not your regular rock band. The kind of track that you’d assume would be left out of a live set, the band were not copping out. They really were playing the whole thing in full, bringing even the darkest notes and stillest of sounds to life on a stage set with glaring neon lights. The entire thing felt like one big theatre show – fitting for the venue they were in.
The vendor walking around in a fancy outfit (complete with hat), selling snacks and ice-cream while the band were playing was a nice, albeit slightly strange theatre-y touch – but again, tonight was not your regular gig.
The set really erupted into life on second song in, ‘Saint’, and was fully underway with single ‘Worship’, third in. Playing the album back to front was definitely a well thought out choice; the classic ‘save the best till last’ never goes amiss. Highlights included highly-coveted single ‘Holy’ towards the end, and the set just wouldn’t have felt right without ending on ‘Sinner’.
As all theatre shows do, the night’s entertainment broke for an interval, during which we heard an inspirational talk from War Child CEO Rob Williams about the work the charity does to help children affected by war overseas. Of course, it was also an opportunity to try more Deaf Havana beer, specially brewed by local craft beer company Goodness Brewery Co.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this already very out-there gig was the second set of ‘classics’. Did this mean they’d slip in a few tracks from debut album Meet Me Halfway, at Least despite vowing never to acknowledge it’s existence during a live set ever again?
Don’t get too excited – despite being almost exactly a month off of the album’s 10th birthday, nostalgic tracks like ‘Friends Like These’ and ‘Nicotine and Alcohol Saved My Life’ didn’t make an appearance tonight. Sadly, it’s most likely a case of ‘if not now, never’ with MMHAL. Unless you’re willing to hold out hope for the 15th or 20th anniversary. Pigs might also start to fly.
What was a nice surprise, though, was the tracks from second album, Fools and Worthless Liars. The band’s definition of classic may only date 2011-onwards, but that’s just fine with me. ‘I Will Try’, ‘Leeches’, and ‘Hunstanton Pier’ were tracks I never thought I’d get to hear live again. Played just as beautifully as they were back in 2011, this time, there was an added layer of passion and maturity to them.
Upon hearing it was guitarist Matt Veck-Gilodi’s birthday, the whole venue erupted into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. There are worse ways to spend your special day. He talked about how he always feels like he’s intruding when Deaf Havana play venues this fancy. That’s the kind of humility that will likely never leave the Norfolk natives, no matter how successful they get.
2019 was a big year for the band; possibly their most successful so far with Brixton Academy and 2000trees Festival headline slots, another UK Top 10 album, and also a whole decade since their debut album. What a way to close this milestone year off.
Tonight was a celebration of their history, taking with them all they’ve done through the years – lineup changes, sound evolution – everything that has made the Deaf Havana we see today.
Deaf Havana are a real sound of a generation, now at the top of their game. It may not be ‘3 Cheers for the Easy Life’ anymore, but it’s certainly 3 cheers for the current landscape of UK rock music.
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