Review: Gengahr at the Portland Arms

Olivia Fletcher 2 November 2015

North London four-piece Gengahr embody many of the most desirable characteristics in a band: they are humble but assured, simple and effective, original but accessible in their sound, as well as creatively self-sufficient. All of this comes across as they play an impressive set at The Portland Arms in Cambridge. 

As the venue warms, a cult following begins to infiltrate the crowd and the reaction as frontman Felix Bushe kicks off with slow debut opener ‘Dizzy Ghosts’ only affirms the strength of their fanbase. Indeed, the band’s dazed pop rock has travelled a long way in very little time, beginning in 2014 with one humble Soundcloud recording and ending in 2015 by headlining their own UK and European tour. As they stroll past their fans onto the set at The Portland Arms’ intimate venue their air of self-assured confidence is visible, and throughout the night their performance is both mature and refined.

The set list is well composed, too. As the band’s singer Felix Bushe well acknowledges,  Gengahr is a band that tends towards slower and subtler sounds so, "when you’re going to be playing everything live you need to have some highs." The band also admit that they’ve expanded their set list, now having a sixteen-song set list compared to six or seven earlier this year. With this in mind, they intersperse the lazy reverb of slower jams such as ‘Where I Lie’ and ‘Bathed in Light’ with brisker numbers like ‘Heroine’ and even the new single ‘Tired Eyes’ which get the Cambridge crowd throwing shapes all over the floor. 

A few tech glitches with Danny Ward’s microphone do nothing to deter the set’s energy as Bushe jokingly shouts "We’re professionals, I’ll have you know" and rolls on confidently to up-beat runner ‘Embers’, carrying along fangirls and enthusiasts alike on his falsetto hum. All the while their drummer, Danny Ward keeps energy in perfect time. Later into the set, more subtle instrumentals like ‘Dark Star’ show off the band’s refinement as a group: the two lead guitars balance and harmonize perfectly and Ward’s beats offer a steady counterweight to Bushe and Victor’s more sleepy strumming, perfectly capturing the mysteriously hang-loose vibe of the studio recording. The school mates round off the night with their much-loved hit ‘She’s a Witch’ which, far from stale, excites the biggest buzz and gets us readily singing along to Bushe’s dark and fantastical lyrics "Maybe she’ll sink, maybe she’ll fly / I caught a witch that cries all the time." 

What is perhaps most striking about the band’s performance, onstage assuredness and humility aside, is the ease with which they translate their sound from studio to live setting. As Bushe points out to me, prior to the gig, "we’re about as simple as a band set up could possibly be in this day and age [so] we’re either very dated in what we do or really quite efficient". If this set was anything to go on, I would opt for the latter. In comparison to their laudable support acts Cash + David and Pumarosa, both sonically layered and kitted out with a horde of live mixers, Gengahr’s live performance requires little to no technical adjustment and this allows them to focus more on refining the interplay between instruments and developing more nuanced performances.