THE BOOKHOUSE BOYS/ BLACK GOLD- Portland Arms, Cambridge 12/ 12/ 2009

I’m quite glad I got in to see Black Gold this evening as the nice PR person had either forgotten to pass my details onto the band or the band had forgotten to pass my details to the man on the door. Fortunately, the blag was mine, thanks to a well-known Cambridge promoter who let me pass the threshold. Because, if I hadn’t got so far, I would never have known that Brooklyn-based Black Gold are led by an elfin man named Eric, who opens his mouth in an infectiously wide grin when he sings and, from behind his keyboard, instructs his audience to shake their booties (generally they don’t, of course, but it was worth a try; a few of the vast number of bespectacled men present ‘bopped’ a little, at least). I would also have been completely unaware that their harmonic pop offerings sound like The Feeling having an orgy with Ben Folds (more pleasant than it sounds), not least the yearning melody of lovesong, ‘Shine’, or recent single ‘Idols’, both of which validate that here is a four-piece who deserve to have their songs sung back at them, which, due to their simplistic formula of songwriting, is more than possible.

Photo: Dese’Rae Stage

And so, if Black Gold are cheerful pop personified, then London’s The Bookhouse Boys skin the innocents alive, make a drum from their remains and beat upon it with their broken bones. Because, despite being named after a secret society, apparently formed to combat the darkness surrounding ‘Twin Peaks’, a guttural moan from each of the eight band members before me signals the approach of a dark energy swathing the little back room that they have taken hostage. They don’t say anything at first but ‘none of you dare move’ is written all over their faces. So I stay put. And their set plays like a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. So much so that it is a sin not to be allowed to light up a cigarette and watch the smoke curl past the band onstage for extra effect.

Pic : Mr Grady

A concerto of what they themselves describe as alternative surf-rock, lead vocalist Paul Van Oestren’s red cowboy boots stamp out a beat whilst, next to him, a sultry Catherine Turner’s red lips pout as she peers out at the sharp, sexy and very much intriguing scene developing around them. Inexplicably irrestistible, Van Oestren could be Johnny Cash in his darkest day but he looks like Springsteen as, first, his devastating accomplices’ spectral vocals make way for flamenco-style handclaps during a desperately passionate rendition of ‘To forgive’ before the duo of trumpeteers add a suave, dramatic and romantic tone to the intense crescendoes of ‘Tonight’ and ‘Dead’, which Muse only wished they’d written. A man in the middle of the crowd dances uncontrollably like Elvis, much to the band’s delight. My plus one claims they’re his new favourites. They leave me seriously rethinking my wardrobe. Either way, make sure you become obsessed with them in the coming year.

Anna C

Thanks to Mr Baker for letting us through the door. Much obliged.