Most fans of Americana music should by now be familiar with the works of Felix Bechtolsteimer, whether that be from his groundbreaking British country blues revivalists Hey Negrita or the more recent murky window into his soul that is his latest venture, the dramatic rock’nroll caravan that is Curse Of Lono.
His panoramic use of every artistic means possible to break new ground and keep those creative juices flowing means the visual has always been a prominent force for Bechtolsteimer. A long-standing partnership with filmmaker Alex Walker has been the driving force behind much of this, be it documentaries, animation or more recently a conceptual mini-video collection released on Youtube surrounding a self-destructive relationship in the city. Tonight though, they were keeping it old school visual; out on tour to promote their sophomore album ‘As I Fell,’ Curse of Lono were headlining to a dive bar full of Bristolians who had already been fed a steady diet of bands and beer to get to this point.
As the Velvet Underground intro track faded away, Felix released a rousing war-cry of “Let’s crank this puppy up!” as they launched into new single ‘Valentine’ a disturbing tale of jealousy and revenge with a thumping beat and a hypnotic sickly-sweet guitar effect achieved through an old Selmer valve amp. ‘Get My Kicks From You’ followed next and the old corrugated ceiling was in danger of being blown straight off such were the heights to which that puppy had been cranked. There were a few teething problems soundwise – understandable considering the countless acts that had come before, but the enigmatic Felix turned the situation to his advantage, seasoned pro that he is, coaxing the crowd and praising the sound guy until he had everyone eating out of his hand as one.
Drummer and former Hey Negrita stalwart, ‘Reverend’ Neil Findlay, was manfully contending with a house drum kit that had been put through a fair amount of abuse by this point but by ‘14 Years’ the rough edges (at least the unintentional ones) had been smoothed away and all cylinders were firing. Felix strapped on his own bass drum just in case the old place needed a final shake to come crashing down and things were moving. ‘London Rain’ is full of shadows and good reasons to shake off the rage of addiction. And Curse of Lono own the stage. Charis Anderson is as slinky and smooth as they come but the sounds that come out of her bass guitar are volcanic and provide much of the gothic fervour of the band’s vibe. At the risk of being unoriginal (something Curse of Lono could never be accused of) Dani Ruiz Hernandez has more than a touch of the Ray Manzarek as he explored every nook of his Bina harmonium and Joe Hazel took his opportunity towards the end of the track to showcase his fretboard talents with a tirade of melodic mayhem. A short interlude followed as Felix explained how the next song, the bluesy ‘Don’t Look Down’ had been picked as a soundtrack for the US hit TV show Kingdom and subsequently become “financially our favourite song”. Due to the scheduling of the Dot To Dot festival the gig was cut shorter than usual and with the final refrains of hit single and heartwarming singalong ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ still glowing in the belly, Curse of Lono faded into the night and onto the next leg of the ‘As I Fell’ tour with the new album much anticipated from London to Los Angeles.
Some of us at AUK (mentioning no names) wondered if, after the intoxicating peaks of ‘Hey Negrita’, the only way was down for any new project by Bechtolsteimer. I, sorry they, should not have been so quick to judge. Curse of Lono burn slowly, drawing you in, disguised in many forms, difficult to grasp at first. Everywhere you turn there is meaning, there is presence and there are epic journeys between success and failure, love and loss. Boundaries are broken and genres crossed by the minute. Many attempts have been made to describe Curse Of Lono and their scope of influence is wide-reaching, but if Lou Reed and Billy Corgan turned up in Texas during a full moon with a couple of bottles of cheap Old Crow whiskey and knocked on Townes Van Zant’s cabin door looking to write some songs, they might have sounded something like this.