Gig Review: Plastic Mermaids at Scala

‘Delivering a musical explosion of tingles, emotion, power and creativity, it was one phenomenally special night!’ 

Gig Review:
Isle of Wight based 5-piece band Plastic Mermaids – formed of Douglas Richards, Jamie Richards, Chris Jones, Tom Farren and Chris Newnham – are one of those bands that push the boundaries, then push them further and then do the same again. They are also one of those bands that as soon as you hear them, you simply can’t get enough of them. So, having not managed to get to the other dates on their ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes’ UK tour, their closing night at Scala, London, (3/10/19) was something I simply had to get to. And, with every final soundcheck moment resulting in anticipation and their headline set edging ever closer, it was clear this was to be one truly special night.

Making their way to the stage – a stage that was almost as full with instruments as the packed house they were playing to – the anticipation held within burst into life. The cheers. The whooping. The sensation. Not even a note had been heard but it was like the most amazing set had already been performed! Then bang! Bursting into life with the opening track ‘1996’, that energy and exhilaration transferred to the 5-piece and the 10, yes 10 additional musicians they were accompanied by.

Sending tingles everywhere, the soaring guitar lines, synth chords and effect-filled vocals of the main band combined with violin set countermelodies, female-centred choir style harmonies, brass centred accents, and synchronised theatrical lighting. To say it was incredible just doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Phenomenal comes closer. It was the kind of sensation that you wish every gig would give you. However, with the levels touching insane, you easily forgot this was just the opener. What you couldn’t forget though from the moment you saw it was the sheer joy Plastic Mermaids gave off as they performed.

Having just hit us with so much impact, in what would be the first of many showcases proving the endless supply of contrasting energies, atmospheres and sensations Plastic Mermaids create, ‘Alaska’ saw all three of these change dramatically. Gone was the power – well partially – and replaced by subtlety in the form of a piano-led introduction, the room was silent. Had we suddenly been teleported to another venue? No, of course not. But the level of intimacy generated truly made it feel that way. As for how the sound developed and reached a point where the whole room sang as one, well that was something truly special. 

Briefly breaking from the near segue between tracks one and two, lead vocalist, pianist and guitarist Douglas told us how on another date in the tour he had broken his hand. This wasn’t going to stop him though – even if he hadn’t played guitar since – and with the intricately finger-picked opening of ‘Milk’ making it seem like nothing was wrong it was, it was another version of impressive. Equally, with the captivating lyricism of the track contrasting with frequently epic climaxes, the sound was just as much so. Each giving more than the previous one, each brought additional energy and with the interaction on stage continually exuding sheer joy, it was no wonder they couldn’t believe where they were and what was happening.

Delivering a change of pace and atmosphere once again, both ‘I Still Like Kelis’ and ‘10000 V’ ensured there was a suitable combination of groove-inducing riffs, earwormy melodies and crowd-pleasing choruses alongside reflective, evocative and touching musicality. Generating a tempo-pushing sound, ‘Kelis’ brought relentless energy in abundance and even though it was certainly the most ‘mainstream’ track of the night, this in no way made it have any less impact. Likewise, but in a dramatically contrasting way, ‘10000 V’ took us on a journey from musical curiosities to distorted textures via computerised dancing synths. If it was contrast you were after though, what was to follow gave it in spades.

Opening with an appropriately otherworldly atmosphere, ‘Saturn’ took us back to the intimacy of Alaska and raise the bar beyond belief. Set differently to the released version, the first near two minutes were delivered in a way that could only be described as ethereally magical. Causing the whole room to full silent – not for the first time or the last – the most spellbinding of solo female vocals captivated everyone. It was completely spectacular and fully appreciated with cheers and applause directly after, it was another tick for special musicality.

However, in the interest of that aforementioned contrast, the remainder of the track gave an explosion – literally in the case of confetti cannons – of infectious tropically infused rhythms, religiously resonant vocals and countless musical fusions. Given the sheer energy in the whole room at the endpoint of the track, there was of course one of two ways to go next: keep it going or change it once more. You can probably guess which they opted for. The latter and in doing so, a new atmosphere on stage was created.

To this point, even in the calmer moments, there was inferred energy from all, but now it was different. Different in a way that was truly standout. Completely drawing us in, the opening of ‘Polaroids’ felt romantic and emotional. And it was for both us and Plastic Mermaids themselves. With it gently evolving to create the most sublime combination of classically orchestrated textures, you couldn’t help but be touched. However, with each member glancing in awe at each other, it seemed as though even they were in disbelieve at how special the sensation was.

Giving us a cross-section of tracks from their EP and album releases to date, with the majority coming from ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes,’ the follow up track saw us treated to an unreleased track. Entitled ‘Intro’ it currently only exists in live form – which actually adds an extra special edge. To be honest, I’ve no idea why it’s never been released but it simply should be! Containing endlessly clashing electronic and acoustic motifs alongside a simple, yet insanely effective vocal hook of ‘In my dreams’ it makes for a chaotic but incredible track. However not to be outdone by their own musicality, they were to once again transport us out of Scala.

Returning to the sparser textures held within parts of the set, ‘Drømtorp’ offered the perfect balance of relaxation, heavenly engaging melodies and gentle cross-rhythms. After the experimental nature of ‘Intro’ a much welcomed few moments for recovery were served up. Don’t get me wrong though, the sheer musicality was as evident as everywhere else – if not more so – and switching so effortlessly between the former chaos and the current calm it only proved just how phenomenal Plastic Mermaids really are. Likewise, returning to the more organised, yet still free-form edged sound of ‘Taxonomy’ heightened that point even further. 

Initially feeling as though we may be heading back to fully experimental due to the opening heavily syncopated ideas, quirk-filled sounds and somewhat random lyrics, the sound seamlessly began to transform. Casting aside the selective instrumental lines, a multitude of vocals broke through generating a wall of sound. However, this was nothing compared to the resurgence where all 15 musicians created a sound that suddenly and most appropriately exploded. Given that the title of the tour was contained in the closing lyrics, I’m sure we would have all felt it to be the perfect closing track. But it wasn’t. They had something more – or as it was to be quite a few things – up their sleeves.

Announcing that they were to play their final track, the cheers and applause from the crowd fell silent allowing the delicate intimacy of ‘Yoyo’ to come through. Actually, if there is anything quieter than silence then that’s what it was. Pin-drop may come close. Each and every person was focused and totally engaged. Like earlier, it was impossible to not be moved and with the mix of gentle strums, bell-tone and spoken word style vocals combining perfectly, this is exactly what was achieved. And wow was it achieved!

With each and every person automatically joining in on the choir set line of ‘Why are you holding onto me?’ it was the most incredible moment of musical togetherness. That was though until the closing moments where literally everything combined to send intense shivers down the spine and cause the eyes to well up. It really was the most moving end to a set there could be. So moving in fact that with no one wanting it to end, the cries for an encore followed almost immediately.

Of course, as with all the best bands in the world – yes I am including them in that – Plastic Mermaids had already considered that this may happen. So, with them returning to the stage and the cheers dying down once more, we were greeted by the subtlety and romanticism of ‘Luliuli’. Delivering the most controlled of extended crescendos – one that grew from the first note to the final climax minutes later – it was by far one of the most evocative musical moments I, and I’m sure everyone else had ever experienced.

Therefore, it was only right that with the crowd cheering for even more that, after what seemed like an eternity, they returned for a euphorically anthemic, confetti-filled second and final encore in the form of ‘Fire Hands’. This time though, it really was the end. The end of not just a night, but a tour that proved Plastic Mermaids are going to be exploding into everyone’s ears very soon.

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All photos copyright of Listen to Discover. See more from the night, including support bands Ralph TV and Stats at: Gig Photography: October 2019

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