Deaf Havana Deliver a Crowd-Pleasing Set

Deaf Havana have an odd mix of fans. Some who are ‘only there for the old stuff’, some who are only familiar with 2018’s synth-pop leaning Rituals, and the dedicated who love it all. Thankfully, this is a band who knows their audience and knows how to create a well-rounded set. The night is both a beautiful send off to the Rituals era and a celebration of the band’s career as a whole.

Arriving on stage without any fanfare, Zach Said’s set gets a lukewarm reception, to begin with – people still making their way in, not all quite into it yet. But the singer is difficult to ignore. He’s cheekily charming, in a way that draws you in easily, and has a stunning voice to boot. Much of the conversation dies down a few songs in and, by the end of his set, everyone present is endeared to him.

Following him is Howard Kaye, who sings an eclectic mix of songs. There’s ‘Too Young’, a car radio-friendly track that features Architects frontman Sam Carter (though unfortunately not present). There’s new single ‘Nightmares’, which borders on being a rap track, with drums heavy enough to burst your eardrums. However, it’s closing song ‘Origin’ that’s really impressive. It speaks to grief, the bargaining and hoping of it, and resonates with many people in the audience.

It’s a moving end that leaves the crowd hushed, rather than hyped – but the mood switches the second Deaf Havana step on stage. Although they arrive to the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ – a fitting, if somewhat dramatic prelude to the last show on the final Rituals tour – it is all raucous applause and high energy as the band launch into an old fan favourite, ‘I Will Try’. It’s a nostalgic and triumphant way to start – the band who made that song could not possibly have imagined what they’ve achieved in the past couple of years – and evidently means a lot to the long-term fans present, if the loud, anthemic ‘woah’s are anything to go by.

There’s something for everyone in the mix tonight – beloved deep cuts from 2013’s Old Souls as well as last year’s big release, all alongside what are now seemingly setlist staples from 2017’s All These Countless Nights, such as ‘Sing’, and ‘Fever’. But the songs that truly shine are the new ones, the perfectly catchy choruses of ‘Holy’ and ‘Sinner’ creating the kind of feel-good singalongs that every band surely wants from a crowd – and Deaf Havana barely even need to ask for it. Although Rituals is a far poppier album than its previous counterparts, some of the songs become grittier live – ‘Hell’ sees guitarist Matthew Veck-Gilodi stomping around the stage, looking like he’s out for blood – and more powerful.

It’s a no-frills kind of show – never a band for gimmicks – but there’s nothing lacking. Frontman James Veck-Gilodi’s vocals are gorgeously emotive, and the rhythm section shakes Stylus alarmingly. Closing with the epic ‘Caro Padre’, here is a band who have changed considerably over the years – in their sound and their line-up – but are still somehow unmistakably the band they were when James took over as frontman 9 years ago. The lyrics are affecting, the vocals are raw, the choruses catchy, and it’s all about the music – nothing more, nothing less.

Header image by Sarah Louise Bennett for Dork.