Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
I arrived at the venue (passing a group of leather-jacketed ponytails at the door smoking, a sign I was in the right place) some way into The Altered Hours’ set. I was immediately sorry I had missed any of it. They were making a lovely, dense psych rock noise, male and female vocals in tandem upfront, with completely no-nonsense drumming in support, which is exactly what the genre requires. As the set went on, they showed the smarts to throw in some guitar work when needed, but weren’t averse to putting the boot down and trashing it at other times.
It was quite an unusual gig, in terms of a local support act – they had poise and a measured intensity, they weren’t trying too hard (which is really the kiss of death for any band) and, crucially, there was a level of seriousness about what they were doing that was impressive. The twin vocals had just the right amount of distortion to hint at a channelling of the 1st Psychedelic Wave and the underpinning groove was rock solid. You could detect in the female voice a hint of Grace Slick at times – a kind of end of the world chant quality – and, not being short of hooks, the whole thing worked great as pop music too. This is a band I will be finding out more about – you should too.
And so to set the controls for the heart of the sun. During the break, I had noticed the sheer size of the drummer’s earplugs (stood at the urinals), which said plenty about what was in store. About 10 seconds into the first song (‘Pads of light’, the lead track from the upcoming album Frying on a rock), he unleashed the motherlode, a crushing backbeat of truly epic proportions. His incendiary, livewire performance continued to the end of the show, ensuring the full, visceral, 3-D experience.
A cosmic trip followed, soundtracked by white noise, space static and pounding guitar work, courtesy of an impressive array of sounds from Dave W.. The wonderfully-monikered Ego Sensation had a haughty, “impress me” air about her to begin (in fairness, the red hot pants did nothing to dispel this). Then, she was clearly seen to nod approvingly as Dave W played phallus guitar in her direction – she responded in kind, with some satisfaction, by flinging her head in time to the beat. She proceeded to produce the subterranean growls and rumbles to complement his upper spectrum attack. This intriguing onstage dynamic between the two formed the centrepiece of the night. Despite her satisfaction, she maintained a more or less severe presence for the duration of the gig.
The trip entered a reflective, atmpospheric phase about halfway through, with Dave W. offering the manifesto, “the universe sings the song of everything” (were they really hippies in disguise, I wondered). Reflection over, time for blast-off again. I must say they lost me for a while at this point, the white noise coming across as just more of the same, and having a numbing effect, literally.
They found me again in time for the outstanding encore (introduced as a track from their first album, never before played live), an overloaded krautrock monster, with something deeply primal about it, and once again showcasing stunning musical technique by all three, underneath the barrage. It was followed by something that sounded like Black Sabbath cranked up a few gears. Heavy metal? It was more like glam rock with the glam surgically removed.
The audience (predomantly male, mid 30’s) showed their appreciation for the effort, and perhaps for the fact that White Hills are up there, by all appearances, living it, so we don’t have to. Then Ego and Dave both smiled sweetly, said “thank you for welcoming us to your fair island” and calmly wiped the sweat-soaked hair from their eyes, as they returned to their glasses of red wine. It was all a bit incongruous, as a sign-off, but I dug it.