Somehow, despite living in London on and off for 30 years, I’ve never made it to a gig at Scala. It’s always a joy exploring a new venue, and this one in particular did not disappoint. A former cinema with a high-ceilinged main room, the air of faded splendor lent the venue real atmosphere.
I got there in time to catch support act Noon Garden, also on touring guitar duties in Los Bitchos. A purveyor of sunny, danceable psych, he was the perfect warm up for the headliners.
By the time Los Bitchos themselves took to the stage, the sold out crowd had whipped itself into a football crowd-like frenzy. In fact, at several points during the gig itself, sections of the crowd took this behaviour one step further, chanting along to the lead guitar lines like they were standing in the away end at a football ground. A well-refreshed group of lads in front of me were particularly enthusiastic participants in this.
The band channeled and harnessed the crowd’s energy masterfully, with guitarist Serra Petale a circus ringleader in total control of her audience. This was a proper show in the old-fashioned sense, the band happy to draw on the kitbag of classic performance tricks. To that end we had bongo breakdowns, frenzied guitar soloing, the whole crowd’s hands raised aloft and dancing for the penultimate song, and a gag about putting Lindsey Lohan on the guest-list that echoed the way Lionel Richie introduces Endless Love in concert by saying he’s expecting Diana Ross to turn up.
None of this seemed tired, clichéd or pale imitation, though. The band’s relaxed charm and infectious enthusiasm made it all fresh and engaging. In performance, they somehow manage to walk the tightrope between being consummate professionals and captivating amateurs. Musically, they are as tight as anything, performers of serious skill. But they also project the feel of a group of mates who have somehow accidentally found themselves performing on the together. It is a winning combo.
The sound itself was perfect. The mix was crystal clear, with none of the instruments getting lost in a muddy mix as sometimes happens at shows. There was also a muscularity to their performance that wasn’t on the record. This was particularly evident in the bass sound – dub-like and rib rattlingly dense, without losing the dexterous funkiness that makes the record’s songs so danceable.
This meant that they could marry the theatrics of a rock show to the danceability of a club night. As a result, the crowd was on its feet from the very beginning and didn’t really stop dancing until the end. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many smiling faces in one place – both from the band and the crowd. It was a powerful reminder of the joyous, cathartic possibilities of live performance. Although I had gone to the gig alone, I felt at times like I was engaged in a mass act of secular worship.
I said in my review of Let the Festivities Begin that I thought these songs would sound huge live, and I was right. Los Bitchos had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand throughout and put on an incredible night. If there is any justice, they’ll soon be filling even bigger venues.
Words by Will Collins.