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John J Presley, Live in London

Live Review

Venue: Sebright Arms, Bethnal Green, London

The chattering classes are silenced with musical brilliance.

It's just a split second but a crucial one. Finding himself confronting the breed of chattering moron that seems to be on the rise throughout the capital’s venues, John J Presley has just two options ahead of him. The narrowing of his eyes and gritting of his teeth suggest that the battered Telecaster around his neck is going to be torn off and slammed over the idiot’s head. The second, deployed option is the stomping of a fuzz box and a battered Telecaster being cranked well into action with a salvo of riffing so filthy that it drags its fingernails across the stage to accumulate piles of grime. And those narrowed eyes and that steely determination give Presley’s tar-thick voice an added emotional depth that sees this performance shift up a gear.

As if Tom Glendining wasn’t hitting his traps hard enough as it is, Presley’s rage and palpably intense playing sees the drummer increase his power while Danielle Presley’s keyboards take on an even more haunting timbre. Damn right they’ve got the blues, but this is something else together; this is urban, claustrophobic and fuelled with a dramatic urge marked by tension and release. When Presley howls, “Come to me, my love!” it’s more pleading than an order.

Having worked – and continuing to do so – with multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, Presley is beginning to carve out a convincing niche for himself under his own name. As evidenced on songs such as the lurching Honey Bee, here characterised by grinding guitars and notes sustained to such a degree that they fall into each other, as well as Danielle’s droning and pumped harmonium, his apprenticeship has clearly served him well. There’s a delicious irony to be savoured as he emerges from the shadows, only to drag you right back into them.

A well-judged cover of Tom Waits’ Heart Attack And Vine finds Presley showing off his roots and inspirations, but it’s with his own material that he really makes his mark. Forthcoming single, _Come __Calling_, proves to be a highlight wherein Presley’s ability to maintain storytelling through music is brought to the fore; he holds back with dampened chords before letting rip with serrated shards of fuzz that fly in all directions, without any concern for safety of himself of the audience. “Are you ready for some more?” he growls. And looking at those chattering mouths that he’s finally shut the hell up, then yes, it looks as if we are.  

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