Sunday, 25 October 2015

LIVE: Balloon Ascents at O2 Academy Oxford (24/10/15)

Though I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself for the past few days (probably due to being out in the cold at a few gigs last week, and lack of sleep), I decided to pop down the road to the O2 Academy Oxford on Friday night to see local guys Balloon Ascents play their single launch for Don't Look Down, with local supports Loud Mountains, Little Brother Eli, and Esther Joy Lane - turned out to be a pretty good decision!

Artwork for the new Balloon Ascents release.
Arriving a little late I missed some of Loud Mountains set, but I was intrigued to see them play as they'd pulled out of a show I went to a few weeks ago. Looking back at the notes on my phone that I made to remember what I'd thought of the set, I find simply 'nice harmonies' and 'folky', which is a pretty concise but decent (?) review. They set the precedent for the night, with all four acts being local bands and artists, friends and linked in various ways, with different musical styles but fitting together quite well - testament to the brilliant organisation of Tigmus.

Second to play were Little Brother Eli, whose music started to form a little more of a crowd than the scattering of people found up to that point. Another local band which I get the impression are fairly well loved, they entered the stage dressed to impress. The five piece band, who describe their genre as 'bluesy garage rock' put on a fun set with superb guitar solos and an enthusiastic and powerful performance from frontman Alex. 

Esther Joy Lane was up next - perhaps the most surprising act of the night and the only soloist on the bill, playing electronic music (with a hint of guitar in one track until it disconnected - a glitch which she very smoothly dealt with!) With her soft voice she made the electronic music fit well into the night, where in theory it seemed a confusing addition - and a crowd, cheering on the local talent started to form, awaiting the arrival of the headliners. A particular highlight of her set was the closing track, Poets, an ode to the late Robin Williams. The night was special for Esther too in that she released an EP yesterday, and had play on BBC Radio 6 Music as 'Recommendation of the day' a couple of days ago. Definitely one to watch on the local scene.

Having seen Balloon Ascents a couple of times before including in the same venue a few months ago - I thought I knew what to expect, but the band felt like it had been invigorated. Frontman Thomas had gained another level of charisma (I'd be interested to see if he's been taking tips from other performers), jumping around the stage and belting out the lyrics to some of the band's well known tracks - for a relatively small local band this seems a strange thing to say, but the crowd, who loved every minute, were hanging on each word and recognising tracks from their opening chords. The band seemed to be having an equally great time, feeding off of one another's energy and excitement for the show.

The newly released tracks went down well, as well as a completely new track which Thomas invited the audience to "listen for the mistakes" in as it hadn't been played live before - but the band were tight as ever, having played together for around 5 years - no mean feat when they're all around 18 years old now. Showcasing their diversity as a band they took it down a notch to play the slightly more stripped back No - see a performance of the track from a Sofar Sounds show in Reading earlier in the year here. Another highlight of the set for me was the opening track, their take on William Blake's poem London which they created for a Sofar Sounds Oxford show earlier in the year. Take a watch below to see a snippet of Cutout, another recent single from the band. 


Overall a fun night (if spent mostly coughing at the back of the room) seeing four fairly different but each credible and talented local acts who are all doing well, and have great things ahead of them. You can stream and buy Don't Look Down/Someone on the Balloon Ascents bandcamp here, and see them live at The Bullingdon in Oxford on 29th November as part of Oxford City Festival.

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