Monday 2 January 2023

Déjà Vega / Pray For Mojo / The Rafters - Darwen Sunbird Records - 30th December 2022

Déjà Vega closed out their most successful year to date where they finally released second album Personal Hell with a packed out show at Darwen's Sunbird Records supported by Pray For Mojo and The Rafters. 

It's our first visit to Sunbird Records in Darwen and it wasn't at all what we expected. Rather than a room above a pub or record shop, it's a fully kitted out space in the centre of town with a powerful sound system that really deserves more bands to fit it into their gigging schedules. It's part of Music Venue Trust's Own Our Venues scheme and the walls pay a fitting tribute to Dr Jonathan Lindley who set up the venue in 2016 and sadly passed away at the start of 2022. It's not just a gig venue, it's a recording space, record label and, judging by the queues later on, a popular hang out. It's the sort of space that every town of this size should have if we are serious about grassroots music venues and supporting scenes outside the bigger cities. It's a relaxed environment for bands to come and perform and know that they'll be looked after - our only issue was the late stage times left many scrambling for lifts back to Manchester as the gig finished way after the last train and this might prevent people coming from Bolton, Blackburn and further afield to a venue that is well worth a visit (or more).

The Rafters are a late addition to the bill, their socials telling us that they were fans of the headliners who bought tickets and then managed to get themselves on the line-up. It's a modest claim because they have most of the audience already in for their performance. Fronted by Nathan, a singer who puts his everything into these songs that clearly act as a form of venting the frustrations of living life in a Northern town, making ends meet and living in the moment. The energy and passion in his and his bandmates' performance draws you in and lifts them from being your traditional four-lads-in-a-band to one that has something to say that will connect both in the power of the music as well as the lyrical content. Murder Mile is about growing up in nearby Accrington, Wasted Love about spending lockdown on Tinder and What's It All About, due for release in the new year, questions everything and anything about modern existence. They get a well-deserved roar of approval after each song and make a lot of new friends.

Pray For Mojo made the trip from Warrington for the show and we remember them from their Lucid Dream support slot at Yes last year. Taking most of their set from their album Welcome To Mojopia, which they tell us was released the same day as Personal Hell, with a couple of new songs early in the set, their sound is more expansive and ambitious, making strong use of their twin vocal approach to keep the set fresh as it progresses. Waiting For The Why and Great Wave, mid-set, demonstrate the power in their songwriting, whilst the album's lead single Oh Me Oh My Oh Mine and its stand-out track Salvador complete the set, the two songs finishing off the surging energy that they've built through their well-constructed setlist.

There's a real sense of anticipation by the time Déjà Vega take to the stage, from both those who've been on their journey from their inception (and some from their days as Deadbeat Echoes) as well as those witnessing their nuclear explosion of sound for the first time and they don't fail to deliver once again as the momentum that's building behind them, primarily based on the live experience and word-of-mouth, shows no signs of abating just yet. With the venue sound cranked up to the very max, threatening to distort at any moment and deafen anyone within range, their hour-long set, taken primarily from Personal Hell, is a final year-end reminder of the simple power you can create from four and six string guitars, drums and a frightening array of effects pedals.  

Déjà Vega are far from just about raw power though. Behind the wall of noise, there runs a river of delicious grooves and hooks, from the opening track Mr Powder from their self-titled debut right through to the fifteen-minute part-improvised The Test which has more ideas and twists and turns in it than most bands manage in their whole career. Chasing and Slow And Steady demonstrate that they're not just simply here to blow your head off, but to catch you off guard with something more subtle, less blunt but without diluting the impact. The audience lose themselves in the music. Glancing across the front row past the obstructive videographer, you see a mass of people, eyes shut, completely lost in what's coming from just a few feet in front of them. Behind them there's guys and girls up on their friend's shoulders for a moment surveying the scene and for an hour on a dark, wet Lancashire night, the focus is firmly on the stage.

Visually the band are a real contrast. Mike on bass stands immovable observing the chaos around him. Tom on drums builds the monolithic foundations of these songs without seeming to break sweat. Jack is transformed from the mild-mannered guy who's spent the previous two hours talking to everyone and anyone with a beaming smile into a possessed devil intent on taking these songs on a journey from their recorded versions to the live environment where this band are at their best. Every time they play The Test the route they take is different, yet there's a cohesive intuitive togetherness between the three of them that few bands can attain, that ability to improvise, think on your feet and know your band mates are right behind you and have your back. It's that, above everything, that makes Déjà Vega such a phenomenal live experience.

Déjà Vega played Mr Powder, Personal Hell, Telephone Voice, Spitting Gas, Chasing, Slow And Steady, Harmonia, Catharsis, Outside Now, Who We Are, Eyes Of Steel and The Test.

Déjà Vega are on Facebook and Twitter. Personal Hell is out now and available on their store. They play Leeds Brudenell Social Club (March 10), London Oslo (11), Nottingham Bodega (17), Bristol Thekla (18) and Manchester Gorilla (April 1).

Pray For Mojo are on Facebook.

The Rafters are on Facebook and Twitter.


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