The anticipation in the room ranged from the absolute maximum (myself as well as large portions of the crowd) right down to the seemingly bare minimum as the crowd waited for noisy London/Manchester DIY indie trio Mazes to take the stage at Birthdays in Dalston, East London on the last date of their February tour.
This was possibly due to a large percentage of those who came to see them being your archetypal “I’m here because Birthdays is the place to be on a Thursday night” Dalston types, although more genuine fans of the band were evidently visible in pockets of the crowd. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as singer/guitarist Jack Cooper laid down his quite impressive pedal board, only to be followed by bassist Conan Roberts, whose bass effects arsenal happened to be even more drastic. The band seemed relaxed as they prepared the stage whilst clutching plastic cups filled with whiskey from the Jameson’s bottle that stood in front of the bass drum as what seemed to act as some kind of totem, a feature which I imagine played a part for many of their earlier dates within the tour. As the band returned from the stage door a second time, dressed refreshingly plainly, Jack Cooper greeted the venue with an almost timid ‘hey’ and a sense of humbleness filled the air.
Since the release of their attentive yet beautifully scruffy second LP Ores and Minerals on the 18th of February, the trio have generated nothing but good words for themselves. The LP has been released amidst a flurry of great albums during the opening months of 2013 but Ores and Minerals still manages to shine through even amongst the work of more hyped or established acts such as Iceage, Eels and (dare I say it) even My bloody valentine. I view Mazes as a band whose sound and approach to the indie world is far from many other British bands of the moment, whilst still remaining relevant. Be it Palma Violets long-hauled press campaigns in which they painted as Godlike saviours, or jolly indie pop from the Birmingham wave of bands including the likes of Peace and Swim Deep, Mazes approach sticks out as strikingly organic. Their lack of management and self-recorded/self-released music allows them to steer clear of too much outside influence, giving the impression that these guys really are just in it to make some great tunes, an impression that was set in stone after attending their show.
‘Bodies’, the 7 minute triumph of an album opener was always going to open or close the set. On this occasion it kicked off the set and was welcomed with a sea of nodding heads from the crowd. The tracks hypnotically simple driving bassline and clockwork drumbeat sat perfectly underneath Cooper’s melodic and at times raw guitar lines. The song was also carried along with some kind of drum machine/sampler, providing the tunes memorable syncopated rhythm guitar line, quashing my preliminary worries that the band would not be able to achieve the intricateness of the guitar work on the LP as a trio. The passionate and confident delivery of Cooper’s vocals was also impressive, making for a perfect application of the song from record to stage.
Renditions of ‘Dan’s Higgs Particles’ and ‘Jaki’ were highlights of the show in terms of Neil Robinson, the bands Kiwi drummer. His pleasingly clunky approach added a range of dimensions to the tracks without once losing sight of timing with Conan Roberts tight and driving bass lines. ‘Sucker Punched’, ‘Bite’ and album title track ‘Ores and Minerals’ all received heroes welcomes, as the confidence of the band clearly grew as the set went on. The nights undoubted climax was set closer ‘Skulking’, with its explosion of a Malkmusesque fuzz solo on top of an air tight and beautifully simple rhythm section.
The band decided to play only two tracks from their first album ‘A Thousand Heys’ within their 45 minute set. This previous album takes somewhat of a more garage rocky approach, with its tracks sticking out and just not quite matching up to the work on their latest LP. The nonchalant reaction of the crowd to this earlier work was met with Cooper playfully whining ‘Come on, it’s the first album’. In a way it was pretty clear that band had a little more faith in their contemporary works musicality and playability.
What Mazes really showed that night is that a humble approach to song writing and life in a band can still provide results. Admirably, the bands introverted yet confident performance relied on nothing but the strength in their songs and the technical skills in their musicianship. If the band manages to get another strong LP out in due course and continue to put on such pleasurable live shows, I can only imagine it will be onwards and upwards for this promising trio.
Words: James Sutcliffe
Photos: Steadman Gbajumo