As the band took their positions on the stage on a rainy Manchester evening, I turned to my partner and said ‘I feel like they’re going to be really loud live’. And then the bass kicked in. It’s been a while since I experienced that feeling some bands give you when a single strum of just one of their instruments makes the whole room shake. I checked the ceiling at Band On The Wall to see if any cracks had appeared. They hadn’t. And then the ferocious drumbeat of opener ‘23’ kicked in and I briefly had to put a hand over each of my ears, beer spilling on my shoulder as I did so. I turned to my partner and we both laughed. This was how to start a gig. The term ‘wall of noise’ is used all too often in music criticism, but there is really no better way to describe the affect of watching Just Mustard on stage and the cacophony they create. But with this band, it is far from just noise for noise’s sake – as loud as they are, you can hear every detail and nothing is wasted. When they play the guitar with a violin bow, there is a reason for it – when a unique tuning is used to give us a weird, chainsaw like effect on certain chords, it adds so much to the atmosphere. Even the tambourine makes rare sense in their hands.
‘I Am You’ follows the opener, and another thing that makes this band’s live show so special becomes obvious. At the centre of the stage is Katie Ball. She has the kind of voice that you might be more used to hearing on pop songs, or simple acoustic numbers, but here she stands in the middle of all this noise making it look effortless and somehow drawing all the attention with her performance. The repeated refrain of ‘change my hair’ on this second song is entirely enthralling, mesmerising even – and all with her barely moving or looking at the crowd.
As someone who liked but didn’t love the first album when released, but totally fell in love with this year’s Heart Under, it was a surprise to me that many of the most involving moments came from songs off of 2018’s Wednesday. Something clicked with these songs that hasn’t before. ‘Pigs’ held me in rapt attention, ‘Deaf’ (a song title that felt apt as my ear drums rattled in my skull) had me planning to put the first album on again when I got home to correct my previous conclusion that it was good but not top tier. When a band is playing a set like this it’s hard to believe that they’ve ever done anything that isn’t totally golden.
And so it continued. Tracks from Heart Under made up the majority of the set, and we were treated to superb renditions of standouts such as ‘Early’, ‘Mirrors’, ‘In Shade’, and ‘Still’. It was a joy to watch them at work, a collection of supremely talented individuals who are so in sync as a whole. Only once did the calm and confident persona slip as something went wrong with the drum kit and a quick patch up job was required – but if you hadn’t seen the slightly worried looks on their faces, the smiles and laughs as it was sorted, you wouldn’t have noticed – they remained cool throughout.
And in a way, ‘cool’ is probably the word I would use to sum up the performance of Just Mustard at Band On The Wall. There’s something so refreshing about the way they are on stage, the way they let their instruments and their voices do the work, the way that Katie Ball stands in the middle of all this noise, looking ahead like she has seen someone at the back of the room that she recognises. There’s definitely no stage banter with this band, to the point that I heard a fellow crowd member complain that ‘they could at least say a fucking hello at some point’. But who needs pointless chatter and awkward exchanges when you can put on an hour and fifteen minutes of riveting, noisy, joyous sound. One of the best sets I’ve seen in years from a band that should be on all of your watchlists.
Words by Fran Slater