A Place Like This – Hidden Door Opening Night

Nadine Shah / Dream Wife / Stina Tweeddale (Honeyblood solo) / Gwenno – Hidden Door, Leith Theatre, Leith – Friday 25th May 2018

Following hot on the heels of MPT’s first Stag and Dagger came my first Hidden Door and the opening night of the festival at the impressive Leith Theatre.

In a lot of ways the rennovated theatre is the star of the show. Having only been in the smaller hall next door I was quite surprised just how big the main theatre is. The suggestion that it could be Edinburgh’s answer to the Barrowlands isn’t far-fetched at all.

The floor slopes gently down from the back of the hall to the stage meaning that there are good views throughout. Where Leith Theatre differs from the Barras is in that there’s a sizeable upstairs, making it far more like the Glasgow Academy but without the crushes that the layout at the Academy causes when full.

Initial impressions though were that the venue was far larger than the show needed. Headliner Nadine Shah was the main draw for me but her last Scottish appearance was at the far more intimate surroundings of Oran Mor in Glasgow.

Initial numbers for Gwenno were low but actually picked up quite quickly. The spacey synth driven sound of the records was replicated with a 5 piece band with Ms Saunders an engaging personality out front.

The live setting definitely enhanced the songs for me and the show was better than I’d imagined that it would be. Highlight of the night was Gwenno forgetting, then remembering to explain what ‘Eus Keus’ is about (cheese) then trying to engage the crowd in a complicated Cornish singalong, albeit  not to any great effect! The set was a great start to the evening though and very well received.

I’d assumed that Stina Tweeddale was placed higher on the bill than Gwenno (with a full band) because, even though she was performing without drummer Cat, she had a larger following. Yet the audience in fact contracted somewhat for her set.

I always feel like I’d like Honeyblood more if I just made a little more effort so was a little apprehensive at the prospect of a 40 minute solo set. Despite kicking off with two singles, Stina explained that she was intending to play some lesser heard numbers, which didn’t heighten my expectations at all.

Yet the 40 minutes flew by until she finished with a B-side that’s apparently much requested but hardly ever played. Curiously it had a singalong part too (with better participation than Gwenno!) and it brought a fine set to a proper conclusion.

Dream Wife were the only act that I’d never heard when the bill was announced but having bought the album on spec, and enjoying it a lot sinc,e I was really looking forward to seeing them live. They perhaps didn’t quite live up to those high hopes.

Things didn’t get off to the best start when they opened with ‘Hey, Heartbreaker’ my favourite song from the record. But its impact was somewhat dulled by both the guitar being mixed too low initially and some OTT vocals.

It’s the one thing I’m not 100% sold on in relation to the record – the screaming vocals. That’s probably down to echoes of horrible 70s hard rock vocalists but it’s something that still pops up periodically, such as on the second Hookworms album.

Thereafter the set was a bit up and down for me – some of the songs matched the album recordings but others suffered a bit.  That is, up until a monstrous ‘F.U.U.’ which was stretched from its recorded incarnation into a monstrous groove. That probably should have been the last song because it was difficult to imagine how they’d top it. But there was still ‘Let’s Make Out’ which was a game attempt to do so.

All in all it was still an enjoyable, if a little uneven set.

Headliner Nadine Shah certainly didn’t disappoint even if occasionally the volume overpowered parts of a song.

With a 5-piece band, including a saxophonist, there was a definite Peej-vibe to Nadine’s set. The majority of songs came from last year’s ‘Holiday Destination’ but there were a few choice cuts from ‘Fast Food’ thrown in as well.

Mid set highlights were a massive sounding ‘Evil’ which harnessed the power of the room well before leading straight into the distinctive opening riff of an impressive ‘Fool’.

Never mind the songs, Nadine is a wonderful performer too, dancing around the stage throughout the show with real energy yet witty and sincere between songs. She even found time near the end to enhance one punter’s (remote) selfie by moving closer and posing!

Having played most of what I’d regard as the hits earlier on I was curious as to what would finish the set. Given that it’s near the end of the record I’m rather shamefaced to admit that I’ve under-estimated ‘Mother Fighter’ for that reason alone – up until now.  Yet it was simply magnificent and set the scene for a truly thunderous ‘Out The Way’ to provide a suitable finale.

Like Nap Eyes a couple of weeks ago, there was no time for an encore unfortunately even if there were still a good number of songs that I’d have loved to hear live. Next time – which hopefully won’t be too long away. I’ve seen some great performances recently but this was up with the very best.

So …  a cracking night and I really, really doubt that I’ll see a better bill all year.