It is the mark of true artists that they put 100% into every performance, no matter what the circumstances. In the same vein, it’s nearly always obvious when their heart isn’t really in it. But, when the audience is much smaller than expected, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the performer to not give it everything they’ve got. Standing firmly against this, Louise Distras, with The Pearl Harts and Hypnosister, all put everything into the show in Newport’s Le Pub on 12th April.
The opening act was actually one of the guitarists from Louise’s backing group, whose solo project is known as Hypnosister. Playing a semi-acoustic guitar that looked almost too big for him, he pushed through his four songs with a hefty voice that exhibited emotional power and fragility in equal measure. Most potent was the closer, entitled “Big Fat Richard”. In a heart-wrenching twist of expectation, this wasn’t a comic novelty song about dick jokes: it told the story of his mother and her one-time abusive boyfriend (from whom she is now happily separated). The upfront and honest nature of the song did nothing to diminish its emotional gut-punch, and at the end, it took all I had not to give him a hug.
It’s not often that the support band comes close to blowing the headliner out of the water. But that’s what The Pearl Harts did. The titanic noise the duo can make together is impressive, but more so is the chemistry between them. It’s clear from watching them that they love what they do – and it’s that passion for their music that made their set so electric. Lifted almost entirely from their debut Glitter and Spit, it varied neatly in pace: starting strong with songs like “Go Hard”, “Lara”, and their widely-acclaimed single “Hit the Bottle”, then moving into the slower “Hurt” before crescendoing to the climax of “Black Blood”. Their raucous style of blues-rock-meets-punk (think Bikini Kill or The Distillers passed through a filter of, say, Queens of the Stone Age) filled the room and proved, no matter how large their audience, the girls are more than capable of holding the audience in rapture. And then crushing them.
When the time came for her set, Louise conducted herself on stage with much more swagger, as did her music as it bludgeoned its way out of the stage doors and into the rest of Le Pub. Her sound is much more directly connected to punk but rounded out with grunge. Imagine if Brody Dalle had taught her younger sister to play Nirvana covers, and their dad was Billy Bragg. It’s raucous, it’s fun, and it’s worth wrapping your ears around. The setlist was mostly taken from debut album Dreams From the Factory Floor, a riotous affair full of songs like “Stand Strong Together” – a furious anthem, exhorting the masses to stand against ‘the chosen few’ regardless of our differences, because that which brings us together can also tear us apart. I’d never truly understood the notion of a voice as a weapon until seeing Distras live. She really does wield hers like an anti-capitalist cudgel. Even in quieter passages, it still has a sharp edge. “This Machine Kills Fascists” boasted Woody Guthrie’s guitar – Distras’ music kills capitalists.
Check out Louise Distras’s DIY video for her single “Outside of You”.
But it is a crying shame, truly, that nobody was there to see it. The sad fact was that of the ten people (at most) in the audience, four of us were not affiliated with the musicians. Louise stood with us for The Pearl Harts, who in turn rocked out hard in support of Louise. This is an encouraging sight at any gig, and doubly so here in Newport. Bizarrely, Louise told me that plenty of advance tickets had been sold, so where everyone was, I don’t know. It was their loss. All the musicians, to their absolute credit, played their hearts out, and I think this is the most important part of it – that they gave it everything, regardless of the size of the audience.