December 4, 2013
As we entered the O2 Academy we were greeted with a blues flute solo that would put Ron Burgundy’s jazz flute to shame. The Mighty Redox describe their style as ‘upbeat psychedelic blues workouts of pure energy.’ And energy they had. Sue Smith’s vocals were not only strong, but also phenomenally varied, and the overall sound was peppered with influences from the world over.
For me though, they all enjoyed the sounds of their songs a little too much, with repeated and overly long guitar and bass solos that made the set feel repetitive and occasionally too indulgent.
The theme of this Oxford City Music Festival event was obviously legendary local talent, but I’m not sure anyone had considered genre. The Knights of Mentis, a fantastically fun and ingeniously integrated folk band, were rather oddly sandwiched between two powerful punk bands. This created an odd jarring in the atmosphere of the gig, and also seemed to cause a problem for the sound guy as he struggled to switch from wailing guitars and screeching vocals to a warm banjo and calm harmonies.
This was in no way a reflection on the Mentis though, who despite their ill-fitting billing, got the whole crowd cheering by the end of their set. As it happens, they played again later at the James Street Tavern, surroundings much better suited to their style, and are still on absolute top form.
The real story here though was the headliners, The Goggenheim. Having never seen them before and only knowing that they described themselves as ‘a Surrealist Art Punk Disco Performance band’, I thankfully arrived with an open mind.
Combining echoes of Duchess Says with the stage presence of Karen O, The Goggenheim provided more than a performance: they delivered an experience. Miss Grace Exley drew your eyes and ears with her crystal clear tones and indescribably inspiring confidence, but the rest of the ensemble were also clearly extremely accomplished musicians.
Their songs were fantastically far from the mainstream: I had no idea how cool a cowbell could be, and the things that woman can do with a swannee whistle make the mind boggle. But it all works, and worked so well that no one felt any qualms about yelling ‘vol au vent’ or ‘calzone’ as part of the audience participation in the last song.
Ultimately, The Goggenheim surprise you, make you dance and visually and aurally entrance you. They are best summed up in my friend's words: ‘I’m not sure what just happened, but I definitely liked it.’