Surf pop perfection at The Moth Club
Getting Seattle outfit Tacocat to perform in the UK is a rare (but most welcome) event. Aside from that, the choice of venue is also an intriguing decision given that we’re inside the Moth Club, an ex-servicemen’s members club in the heart of Hackney. The Moth Club’s gold wavey ceiling seems suitable apt for tonight’s entertainment (although given the venue’s name, we were expecting lots and lots of lamps…).
Tacocat (aka vocalist Emily Nokes, bassist Bree McKenna, guitarist Eric Randall and drummer Lelah Maupin) loomed large on our radar back in 2016 with the wonderful Lost Time album (see review previously). The surf-punk style combined with engaging hooks and witty lyrics had a particular magic on record, but it also cried out to be unleashed in a live environment.
With the release of their latest album This Mess Is A Place (see our album review), Tacocat have indulged the opportunity to get their tunes across the Atlantic to their UK fans. But before that, support act Twen take to the stage to warm up the already busy venue.
Originally emerging from Boston’s punk scene, singer Jane Fitzsimmons and guitarist Ian Jones combined their talents and moved to Nashville. The pair have a good chemistry on stage and tonight’s crowd seems to much more attentive than you might expect of a support act.
On stage, Twen demonstrate breezy guitar tunes folded over to deliver a solid wall of sound. With some sturdy percussion and their doubled-up harmonics on vocals, Fitzsimmons and Jones managed to capture a powerful presence. At times they throw a nod to grunge and others there’s more than an element of laidback Americana.
Their set is also interspersed with some witty MC moments (“Are you hydrated?”) and a plug for Fitzsimmons’ range of tie-dyed shirts (looking quite impressive on a rack by the merch stand).
Twen keep the best for last though with a tighter, more dynamic number. Echo-laden vocals are given a more prominent place in the mix and it’s clear that they’re leaving the audience on a high.
Tacocat begin to take to the stage just a little before 21:30, busily setting up their gear as they go. Drummer Lelah Maupin is first in line, adjusting the percussion ahead of some serious thumping. Joining her towards kick-off time is vocalist Emily Nokes, bassist Bree McKenna and guitarist Eric Randall – who takes time to wrap an artificial flower around his mic stand for added effect.
By this point, the venue is full and even before the first song is delivered, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the room. That anticipation is rewarded with an excellent opener in the form of ‘Bridge To Hawaii’, a real stomper of a tune care of Maupin’s up-front tribal percussion.
The band keep the pace going with the acid wit of ‘The Internet’ – a tune which we previously described as “percussive pop” and whose lyrics delve into the darker side of anonymity on the internet (“Your place is so low/Human mosquito”).
‘Hologram’, pulled from new album This Mess Is A Place, offers a tighter arrangement with sharp percussive fills. It’s peppered with wry lines such as “Don’t take this the wrong way/But you’re doing this the wrong way” and nails the pop side of Tacocat perfectly.
‘Katherine Dana Scully’ provides a perfect follow-up with a big drum sound in this paean to the iconic star of classic TV show The X-Files. Lines such as “She’s the only one thinking it through/She’s got the shoulder pads, no nonsense attitude” demonstrate why this is a stone-cold Tacocat classic – and the audience responds to it accordingly.
Next up is ‘Grains of Salt’, another new number, which Randall announces as “The first single from our new album” which gets a big cheer. Despite some brief technical problems with the drum kit, the song emerges as a strident number with a meaty beat to it. It’s also a good opportunity for Nokes to noodle away on her Korg synth. “We messed that up last night…” suggests Nokes post-song (before the actual blame is laid on jetlag).
Elsewhere, ‘New World’ has a beefy quality to it with some suitably big bass licks care of Bree McKenna. Its optimistic pop yearnings (“I woke up today and all I saw was beauty”) also seem to find a reflection in an eager and friendly audience.
Pausing for a brief MC segment, bassist McKenna muses on some of the UK’s classic post-punk heritage, including good words for The Raincoats. For those merch-minded, she’s also keen to push the Sheryl Crow fanzine she’s brought along for Tacocat’s mini tour.
Then it’s straight back into the tunes where ‘The Joke of Life’ has more of a garage punk feel to it, combined with a more cynical line in observational lyrics (“Irony falls short of the real thing”) as a commentary on 21st Century life. There’s even a hint of The Ramones lurking in the mix.
Meanwhile, ‘Talk’ (another number culled from 2016’s Lost Time album) alternates between a more introspective approach with some energetic guitar-fuelled moments. With barely a pause, it’s back to the new album for an exploration of privilege on ‘Rose-Colored Sky’ (“I wonder what it feels like/To not even have to try”).
Things step up a gear for a dynamic ‘I Love Seattle’ – a love letter to the band’s hometown which is bolstered by Lelah Maupin’s urgent percussion. It’s not surprising that it gets a huge response from a now fully engaged crowd.
“The next song is dedicated to anyone on their period today…” heralds a magnificent ‘Crimson Wave’. Taking their sound back to their surf roots, Tacocat’s ensemble deliver some superb harmonics on their classic tune.
‘Crystal Ball’, meanwhile, has a plucky energy to it with some powerful, percussive beats and a fine line in snark (“What a time/To be barely alive”) which stokes a visual image of infinite eye rolls…
The set barrels towards its inevitable end, but Tacocat know how to round things out with a banger, which they offer up via ‘I Hate The Weekend’. The not-so-subtle dig against out-of-town tourists has the entire Moth Club jumping up and down and singing along to the dry wit of the lyrics (“Paint the rainbow shades of beige”)
With such a rapturous response to that particular number, the band confer and decide to slot in a bonus song in the form of ‘Hey Girl’ (from their 2014 album NVM). This pointed lecture on street harassment has a handy refrain featuring the song’s title which Nokes encourages the audience to sing along to.
At the end of tonight’s adventures, the score is definitely in Tacocat’s favour. With several album’s worth of tunes to choose from, they’ve wisely built their set around the strongest bangers from their extensive musical history. At the same time, the new album gets a good look in to prove the band isn’t simply playing it safe.
In a live environment, Tacocat demonstrate that they’ve definitely got the chops to deliver a powerful and varied set that manages to put a smile on everyone’s face. Or as they so eloquently put it on ‘New World’: “I woke up today and everything was brighter.”
This Mess Is A Place is out now on Sub Pop.
He is responsible for design outfit Arc23 as well as writing for outlets such as J-Pop Go, Electronic Sound, All The Anime, Manga Entertainment and The Electricity Club.
He has been featured in a variety of press and media features including the Metro and Japan Update Weekly.