Life for any artist during the past year or so has been bleak, but particularly so for Curse Of Lono founder and frontman, Felix Bechtolsheimer. “I lost my dad, my uncle and my ex-partner last year, and my band, but I’ve got this record and I almost look at it like a bit of a shrine.” The record is ‘People In Cars’ and this London date its launch. Both are categorical proof that memorials to Curse Of Lono are premature. Bechtolsheimer and his completely new line-up did his impressive new album full justice. As he also said “I got a record that’s my favourite record I’ve ever made by a long way, and it’s the record I needed to make.” And it shows, Curse Of Lono are back.
With two acclaimed studio albums of dark lyrics around an atmospheric, cinematic swirl of sound, Curse Of Lono won the Bob Harris Emerging Artist of the Year at 2019’s UK Americana Music Association Awards. A stripped back live album followed and by mid 2020 Bechtolsheimer had recorded much of ‘People In Cars’, returning to to his familiar writing themes of drugs, death, danger and depression. Himself no stranger to a life of turmoil and having overcome addiction, he conveys his experiences in an ominous baritone of equal depth. Profoundly affected by his father’s death he added further songs to the new album which takes the signature Curse Of Lono sound and themes to further extremes. Still beautifully produced, ‘People In Cars’ creates even greater space than its predecessors. But hold on, this is supposed to be a live, not album, review? Yes, but this is relevant because when playing almost the full album tonight, comparisons with the studio version are inevitable and there is a distinct difference. Less smooth and relaxed than in the studio, this new live Curse Of Lono is tight and rocks. There is a grittiness to Bechtolsheimer’s voice, his drawn out guitar sounds more immediate, perhaps to keep pace with Joe Harvey-Whyte’s scorching slide and pedal steel.
Electrowerkz was an ideal venue, its sparse surroundings the perfect canvas for Bechtolshheimer to wield his bold strokes. Opener ‘Think I’M Alright Now’ was the sonic equivalent of gentle blasts of dry ice. The band seemed to be tuning up then whiffs of this luscious sound around an unwavering riff began to fill the space. “I’ve been shaken but I think I’m alright now” hummed Bechtolsheimer as Harvey-Whyte’s pedal steel gathered strength. At a tempo far brisker than the record and shorn of studio production, Curse Of Lono cranked it up. ‘Steppin’ Out’ was at a similarly higher speed with an indie country feel before ‘Let Your Love Rain Down On Me’ went foot to the floor, “Now I’m driving hard in this big machine”. Taking a break from this burst through the gears Bechtolsheimer greeted his audience, “Welcome to the launch of the album ‘People In Cars’ for people without masks.”
‘Pick up the Pieces’ from their debut ‘Severed’ also sounded harder, underpinned by Tom Sansbury’s relentless bass line. Bechtolsheimer pleaded, “Go easy on us” as he introduced ‘Way to Mars’ from ‘As I Fell’ – a song about his longest tour now being performed on his shortest tour. He need not have bothered, the audience was right behind him. Carlos de Los Santos from support Neon Islands added a further layer of keys to propel a glorious momentum that could have been the tour bus rolling along, “Take me where I wanna go”. Returning to ‘Severed’ for ‘London Rain’ had Bechtolsheimer duelling with Harvey-Whyte before they turned into a jam of pure southern rock. It was not all full-on however. Back to the new album, ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away’ gave new vocalist Bo Lucas a perfect opportunity to amplify the atmospherics.
Bechtolsheimer tended to let the music do the talking, keeping his comments brief. But there was no masking his emotion when introducing ‘Ursula Andress’. “My dad would say that the two most beautiful girls in the world are called Ursula (one was my mum and the other the Bond girl)”. Again, the album’s relaxed beat was wound up for the show as Bechtolsheimer gave full vent to his vocal range from menacing low to a scream in a single line, “I need your love.” To match the desert road trip lyric, Bechtolsheimer gave his Fender Baja Sexto full throttle on ‘Kathleen’ from ‘As I Fell’.
The inspiration behind ‘Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride’ from the new record clearly struck a chord with Bechtolsheimer. It involves a French punk band, Camera Silens who robbed a bank. They got away with it until one of them boasted of their audacity to a newspaper. Only the lead singer evaded arrest until, thirty years later, he handed himself in. Compared to that Bechtolsheimer thought Curse Of Lono were more Hairspray. Given his own chaotic and daring exploits he’s perhaps doing himself down slightly but Curse of Lono v.2 hit the button on this blast of rolling country rock.
The two encores were in complete contrast. ‘Man Down’ is Bechtolsheimer’s deeply touching tribute to his father. Drummer Chris Jones played a lonely piano line behind Bechtolsheimer’s voice laden with grief. The band pulled together for a fitting crescendo. And to close? More murder, jealousy and death with ‘Valentine’ from ‘As I Fell’. Former band member Charis Anderson joined as all blasted away all the losses of a year to forget.
With a new album on its third live outing Curse Of Lono performed with polish and drive. The title ‘People In Cars’ comes from Mike Mandel’s 2017 book of photos taken of people through the windows of cars at an LA intersection in 1970. The album is Bechtolsheimer’s but he shared the show’s honours with his impressive new band. All were first-class as this new Curse Of Lono matched the power and menace of those mighty highway machines.