Mono is barely at half capacity when Vital Idles take to the stage at Mono on Friday night, and more's the pity - they steal the show. Featuring former Golden Grrrl Ruari MacLean on bass, Vital Idles have a scratchy, garage-y vibe (some kind of loose triangulation of Flying Nun, Slumberland and 53 & 3rd), a droll coolness, an understated intensity.
Not many bands can pull off a Smiths cover, but they make 'Jeane' their own and it isn't even the best song in the set, not by a long shot. They're into the music, and they don't give a fuck if you're even listening - you should, of course, because 'vital' is an entirely apposite descriptor.
The Bellybuttons have a tough act to follow, but they have a certain free-and easy swagger about them that makes them easy to like (they also appear to have the happiest bass player in the world). They sound a lot like Pavement, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a relatively long set renders proceedings more samey than they ought to be.
By the time Ultimate Painting take to the stage, the venue is rammed. They are the obvious professionals of the night, everything is very together, and that's understandable given Jack Cooper and James Hoare have toured so much over the last few years with their different bands (Mazes and Veronica Falls/Proper Ornaments respectively). It's frustrating to listen to a set where all the songs are the same speed (mid-tempo), especially when they have so much potential. They have a great sound and melodies in spades - how couldn't they given their pedigree? - but there's a lack of dynamic variation and a certain spark, an energy, that they could do with carrying across from their other bands. Their potential is massive, but they need to remember to shift gear every now and then.
Photos by Erika Sella. Words by Andrew R. Hill.