She Drew the Gun / Peaness : Academy3 Birmingham

Having loved She Drew the Gun’s first album ‘Memories of the Future’ in 2016, to not liking their follow up ‘Revolution of Mind’ in 2018, to finally getting to see them live for the first time supporting The Coral in October 2018 and finding the performance deflated and lifeless, I hope that watching them as the headline now will bring me back to the love I first felt for them.  And this is the problem with being a music obsessive: you make an emotional connection with artists, it’s not just about whistling popular tunes, there is an investment you make with your time and all your senses, so when that relationship changes you really feel it on a very personal level… from pleasure to disappointment, rejection, disenchantment, frustration, regret…

Support tonight is a band I wanted to see based on their name.  It is strange how much impact a name can have, and how it can attract and put off potential listeners in equal measure.  This band’s name made me laugh and finding out the band is made up of three women, I had to know what conversation was had when they finally agreed to the name, and what kind of people would call themselves PEANESS.  It’s clearly an aural joke, but is only funny when heard whilst reading the word.  Clearly the band has a sharp sense of humour, even if it appeals to men sniggering about willy jokes.  The juxtaposition of that word against the image of three smiling young women is as much about empowerment as it is a nod to post-modern art (ie. Ce n’est pas un pénis).

Regardless of my initial attraction to the band’s name, I did not expect anything as good as their performance tonight.  They have actually been around for a few years supporting amongst others my other favourite bands The Big Moon and Lovely Eggs, and that shows in their effortlessly tight playing.  Their songs feel as if they come from a lo-fi/DIY ethic, however, they are in fact incredibly complex with multiple harmonies for the vocals, melodic bass lines in stead of just holding a rhythm, guitar lines that alternate between clean and overdriven, strummed and arpeggiated, with drum and rhythm patterns that follow the melody not just four on the floor.  It is a pleasure to listen to something so well arranged and thought out.  And you can see how delighted the three musicians are as they are smiling throughout.  This feeling is infectious and by the end of the short set, the crowd is enraptured.  I can’t wait to see them again, hopefully when they headline at the Hare and Hounds on January 28.  Although I hope more than anything that they don’t get mis-labeled under ‘wacky novelty act’ or worse, accept the label as a marketing tool, when I think they have the vision and talent to be much more important than that.  It is also great to hear the cheer for drummer Rach, who hails from my own borough of Dudley.

No matter what I have written in the past about She Drew the Gun, good and bad, at the centre of it all, you know you are dealing with real, honest, hardworking musicians when they bring on their own equipment before their set starts.  There are no roadies or guitar technicians or stage managers doing the old ‘One two’ thing, just the band doing the un rock n roll lugging of guitars and amps.  Even two albums in, She Drew the Gun are working as hard as ever and there is something beautiful about that.

The set opens with the first two tracks from the album ‘Revolution of Mind’, ‘Resister’ and ‘Something for the Pain’.  Although I still don’t think this is their strongest work, it does sound more powerful live than on record.  Then they rewind to their debut album for ‘Where I End and You Begin’, which along with the choice track ‘Wolf & Bird’ that follows are sublime and remind me why I love this band so much.

It really makes a difference when you can see the earnest delivery from Louisa as she sings her sharp and intelligent lyrics.  The Academy3 is very much an up front and personal venue and really helps with the band/audience connection, particularly as she writes about real human issues, relationships and the current political landscape.

The songs come thick and fast and for the most part are selected from the second album, along with a few from their debut and the cover versions recorded between album releases.  The band is clearly focused and determined to make the gig a visual and oral treat with psychedelic images projected on the screen behind the band; the projector is positioned so the band is in the way and the images flash across their faces.  It reminds me of footage I have seen of Pink Floyd when they put water and coloured oils on an OHP.  It suits the She Drew the Gun sound beautifully.  My only criticism of the sound mix however, is there should be more space given the vocals; both lead and backing vocals are fighting in the same frequencies as two distorted guitars and keyboard parts.  I feel that if the band volume is reduced the beautiful tone in Louisa’s voice would be highlighted; this is evident when she sings solo with just her guitar on ‘Poem’ and ‘Human’ and you can hear her perfectly.

Other highlights for me are from the first album just because I think Louisa hit a rich vein of creativity at that time: the tender ‘Since You Were Not Mine’ and the pulsating ‘Pit Pony’ are spellbinding.  The covers of Beloved’s ‘Sweet Harmony’ and Zappa’s ‘Trouble Everybody’ also show the band’s ability to reinvent other artists’ work intelligently whilst retaining their own sound and feel.

I must comment on the audience demographic at the show, because not for the first I have stood in a crowd of 40 and 50 somethings watching musicians half our age.  There is a smattering of under 30’s, but the bulk of those in attendance are men and women like me, the wrong side of 50.  I know that She Drew the Gun have a political awareness and musical style that harks back to 60’s and 70’s revolutionary artists, and that excites me, but can’t help feel that with sharper marketing, younger people could have been targeted for maximum exposure.  Maybe it’s just a matter of time.  Until then She Drew the Gun remain one of indie’s best kept secrets and I honestly can’t wait to see what happens next.

Music journalist