DIVORCE ATTORNEY + NIL BY HABIT + DEAD ACTORS – GREEN DOOR STORE, BRIGHTON 13.11.23
My 30th overall review for Brighton and Hove News! How exciting! What am I in the mood for on a Monday night for this review…? Maybe Suzi Quatro down at the Brighton Dome? Or maybe slacker rock icons Superchunk at Concorde 2? Or maybe even Ratboys at Dust in East Street? Nope, there’s only one place you’d find me on Monday 13th, and that’s attending a delectable evening with three high quality local Brighton acts at Green Door Store; sometimes, nights of this calibre are the best for hidden gems and surprises you never knew you were in store for…! This show was courtesy of relatively new experimental rock group Divorce Attorney, joined by prolific acts Dead Actors and Nil By Habit for a spectacle unlike any other in Brighton that night!
Fronted by guitarist and vocalist Nathan Key, Divorce Attorney are an explorative five-piece that, while have only just released their debut single ‘Mothballs’, have made a notorious name for themselves as a quirky, off-kilter and fantastical live act in Brighton’s local music scene! The band also features the musical talents of keytar player Alex Lemonidis, drummer Owen Flood, bassist Harvey Allen, and saxophonist David Swenzen (who unfortunately could not make this performance).
However, before we can even think of approaching such titans, we must first be greeted by post-rockers Dead Actors. Hot off the release of their ‘A Shouting Throughout Heaven’ EP back in March this year, these guys have been slowly building a live repertoire, taking their odyssey across various venues across Brighton and London, all the while expanding their sound into progressive territories. Straight out of the gate post their stage arrival, we are hit with some cool syncopated post-punk rhythms that open the song ‘Left-Handed Scissors’, courtesy of drummer Ewan Vellinga, while frontman Jonah Hartley provides some slick chord changes, and a vocal tone that sticks out in an interestingly unique way. It’s important to note that one of their band members, Daniel Brown, is credited as playing “evil guitar”, stated by the band themselves… and evil guitar is certainly what he brings to the table. There’s a very mutated approach to his guitar techniques that is incredibly refreshing to see, whether it’s bending the tremolo arm or almost contorting himself into the guitar at times. Following a quick tuning change, the song ‘Newsnight’ sits inside a more conventional chord progression from Jonah, reminding me of something Jim O’Rourke would be doing in his Drag City years, while Ewan and bassist Ciaran Harris maintain a steady and patient groove between each other. This calm aura doesn’t last long however as a twisted stop-start pattern amongst the quartet which precedes an intense and noisy climax comes into play.
The propulsive ‘Evil Hour’ feels like a strange hybrid of indie rock eras (I’m thinking a cross between Sebadoh and Fontaines D.C.), despite being shorter in length. There’s also a remarkable display of interesting guitar voicings from Jonah, coupled with an angsty vocal delivery that pulls the song through pretty well. ‘Nearly Valentine’s Day’ is an example of Dead Actors making use of the more progressive and gradual elements of their sound, starting from minimal tom-led rhythms and intricate basslines and culminating into walls of flanger and distortion-layered guitars from Jonah and Daniel. I don’t know what it is about it, but the following song ‘Liquid Mercury’, the penultimate moment in the set, feels the most harmonically unhinged, with Jonah’s guitar shapes becoming more irregular and demented, while Daniel whacks his guitar with a wrench… (footnote: if a guitarist like Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck can pull off bowing his guitar with a screwdriver, then Daniel’s wrench-oriented percussive maintenance is more than welcome!). Talking of Daniel, it’s only by the closing track where I notice his peculiar guitar tuning, two sets of three alternating low E and high E strings…! Anyways, yes, the final track, entitled ‘Bright White Blinding Light’: not only is this track a tremendous closing moment for the set, but the performance that it follows is easily one of the most visceral experiences of any live show I’ve watched! An ominously weighty progression hanging around one or two drop D guitar shapes à la Black Country New Road for the most part, a loud post-rock climax and tortured vocals from Jonah cap the song off into a one-of-a-kind experience!
Dead Actors setlist:
‘Nearly Valentine’s Day’
‘Bright White Blinding Light’
Phew, well that was an exciting start to the show, wasn’t it?! Now, I’m resting against the venue wall, armed with a cup of water (ah, the exciting life of a teetotal gig-goer!), patiently waiting for Nil By Habit. The longest-running band of the line-up at nine years and counting, Nil By Habit feature band members that stem from all across the United Kingdom, permanently residing in Brighton as a musical operating unit for all things post-punk. I’d heard the name Nil By Habit floating around the live circuit, first acknowledging them as the upstairs band while catching Kowloon Cowboy at The Hope & Ruin back in May. Now, finally, six months later, I’m getting to see what all the fuss is about…! The quintet form their assemblage on the stage, each of them in all manner of varying colours of clothing, backed behind Korg synths and floor toms. Those said Korg synths provide the opening layers of sweeping textures that open the song ‘John Cusack’, their final 2022 single. There’s a steady motorik beat supplied by drummer Sam as well as a low anchoring bassline from Alex. The remaining trio of guitarists Stan and Josh, and frontman Ronan all come out with almost gang-like vocals that grip the audience by the throat.
The following track ‘Heart As A Weapon’, set to be the group’s next single, is an angular piece of post-punk with all the charm of indie music in the early 2000s. Looking like he’s fighting his demons on-stage most of the time, Ronan’s vocal delivery could be seen as similar to that of The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, in his rising pitch inflections and demented mannerisms. ‘BBC’ is a personal favourite in the setlist thanks to its erratic riff-heavy dance-punk atmosphere, not to mention Ronan’s stage presence being one of the best I’ve seen in any live show, full stop! Entering the second half of the set, the song ‘Mood And The Fury’ is quite the progressive cut, with its core bass and drum groove, coupled with introspective songwriting, sounding like the nervous man’s Owner of a Lonely Heart. Despite being a more melodic cut, it still carries that dark Nil By Habit identity that has been maintained throughout the night. ‘Squeamish At The Sight of Love’, a monstrous moment of avant-punk with a spooky Korg melody, saw Josh and Ronan take hold of their percussional duties, the former with a cowbell and the latter behind a floor tom. Naturally, a strong rhythmic climax was always on the cards…! The group close out with what they describe as an old drinking song by the name of ‘Spiegel Tent’, complete with jerky guitars against jovial drum beats. The track itself treks over abrupt and patience-testing dynamic changes, almost like a soft drink breather in a night out on the lash at your favourite watering hole.
As Nil By Habit packed down their set-up, I simply had to rush over to Ronan and thank him for a mind-blowing performance; not for a long while had I watched a band bring such a unique atmosphere to a show!
Nil By Habit setlist:
‘Heart As A Weapon’
‘Mood And The Fury’
‘Squeamish At The Sight Of Love’
Finally, the art rock princes themselves, Divorce Attorney make their way up to the stage to the sounds of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Gotta Get Up’ coming from the speakers (side note: I love with when bands have particular songs playing before the main show starts, takes me back to hearing Kiefer Sutherland pick out The War on Drugs’ ‘Under The Pressure’ as his song of choice a while back). Right out of the gate, the opening ‘Hallway Song’ plays around with swinging clean guitars in a 6/8 rhythm… but not for too long as they quickly descend into a moody, noir-filled atmosphere, like progressive pop for the underworld. Despite the lack of sax player David, the band still pull through such musical ingenuity, with Alex’s snazzy keytar and Harvey’s polyrhythmic bass line carrying such valour. The song builds itself up into oblivion as the band hangs around this one F major chord, with Nathan’s vocals growing more haywire by the second!
The quiet and downtrodden ‘Blessing’ sees drummer Owen maintain a calm rhythmic pattern before evolving into a jerky drum groove towards the middle portion of the song. It’s fair to say this band sounds completely out of its space, but at the same time, they sound like they’re covering every musical base known to man; not to mention the phrase “happiness by proxy” being my favourite piece of lyrics Nathan brings forward to his congregating crowd. If those first two songs weren’t enough of a demonstration of Divorce Attorney’s staggering demand for dynamic control, then ‘Small Talk’ certainly will, opening with a calm and serene post-rock flair before a LOUD chorus takes hold of the audience in seconds! The song itself transitions seamlessly into the short but wonderful ‘Duality’; this is where we bear witness to the best part of the show, the Nintendo DS solo. Yes, I said Nintendo DS solo! Alex places down his keytar and opens up his suitcase, with gold lighting inside (like something out of ‘Pulp Fiction’), to pull out a Nintendo DS and proceeds to play a saw synth solo on it! Genius. Genius. Genius!
“You’re apparently listening to Divorce Attorney. Please hold.” states Nathan as Owen provides one of the best free drum solos I’ve ever seen live, his grooves and chops devolving into chaos before forming a succinct rhythm that acts as the backbone to the song ‘Eulogy’. With Alex’s low-end keytar pattern in place, the song has a very nocturnal aura that makes for a great comedown in the set. The penultimate ‘OK, Now What?’ is a very sinister track, thanks to its warbling electric guitar simulation on the keytar, but also Nathan’s tortured vocal exclamations act as a huge gut-punch for the listeners. It comes complete with a thrashing ending, with walls of cymbals and cries of “I just need a minute”, making me feel like I’m on the run in an episode of ‘Minder’. Finally, the band treated us to the exclusive performance of their only currently-released single, ‘Mothballs’. Having already seen the band live before and listened to this song when it came out, I can safely say that it’s quite an interesting choice for a first single, with a pace and groove as slow as this… kudos! Owen begins to unleash his fury on the drums while Alex reaches screeching heights on his keytar solo. Although, I did chuckle a little as bassist Harvey displays a warm, beaming smile while Nathan, in front of him, pours his heart out, almost on the verge of a breakdown. With a final tempo-increasing riff driving the song out, the show is sadly over. Divorce Attorney proved on Monday’s show that they, as well as their two support acts, can really put on a show: scenes of the experimental rock underworld, intensifying musical pathways and a Nintendo DS solo will instantly be the key to your heart if ever you decide to catch these guys live…!
Divorce Attorney setlist:
‘OK, Now What?’