I’d heard of Esben & the Witch, but never actually listened to them. What a fool I’d been! A wonderful melange of goth-pop and post-rock, they were always going to scratch a very intimate itch in me. So when the line-up came through a couple of weeks ago and I listened through my areas of ignorance, they ended up in a special pile labelled “love”.
I have watched an awful lot of their YouTube videos over the last fortnight, so seeing them come on stage and doing their sound check I feel like I’m on an important date in the first flushes of love. Because I basically am.
Named after a Scandinavian fairy tale, they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Their black guitars match their black drum kit and black clothes. The dry ice is generous. No-one is smiling. This feels like heaven!
Rachel Davies is often compared to PJ Harvey, because her voice sounds really similar, and I can’t think of a better compliment than that, except to say that this contains so much emotion that I so sorely miss from Harvey’s recent output that I would swap all her albums for Esben’s (in some mad hypothetical world where such a trade might be necessary).
When “Dig Your Fingers In” transitioned seamlessly into “No Dog” (as it does on the album) I thought they’d shot their load early. But their catalogue is so strong that I was proven ridiculously mistaken.
The problem with this gig however, and it is a very big problem, is the depressingly static nature of the crowd. I’m almost sick of writing these words, but sometimes a band just doesn’t get the audience it deserves.
I know they’re here. If only I could transfer the incredible audience from Savages two years ago to here now!
But I can’t. All I can do is get right to the front and never look back. I can’t steer this ship on my own.
So everything here is nearly exactly as I wanted it. The bass from the drums is making my clothes and hair shake. Each song builds strongly. Just three musicians make this astonishing noise. Dan Copeman’s powerhouse of drums brings Tom Fisher’s looping guitar hooks and Rachel Davies’ strident bass to glorious life. But the crowd, sadly, cannot be so enlivened.
I suppose this sort of music does rather attract the sort of cerebral navel-gazing that just isn’t going to dance no matter what happens. I know this because a significant part of me is that navel-gazing nob. But I really wanted to dance and let myself go to this. And I just couldn’t. But by all the fucking swearwords I want to see these guys again!
A devastating storm of raw emotion that somehow managed to fail to find the audience it so badly needed.
A version of this review first appeared at fringereview.co.uk