The Hoxton Pony looks way too posh to have bands playing in its basement. It’s one of those overly-modern cocktail bars where you expect to pay around £7 a drink. And yet, here we are, watching Denmark’s Lilyphone play bleakly unoriginal country music under a rainbow of intense UV strip lights.
The audience are disproportionately enthusiastic at first. But then again it is St Patrick’s Day, which puts people in a disproportionately happy mood all round. However, it’s not long before the dull, easy-listening versions of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ lose the attention of the punters – to the point where they don’t even notice when each song ends.
After fifteen minutes of fantastic old ska tunes from DJ Louis Simonon, the band who put on this monthly night of free live music, Hares, gather on the bit of floor that is demarcated as the ‘stage’ by a few monitors.
They are a million miles ahead of Lilyphone in the race to make good and interesting music. They open with Make Your Mark, a track with lyrics so fast the singer almost resorts to rapping.
The band perform like they’re playing fidget-pop – dancing in a jerky sort of way – but what they’re playing is almost-cheesy indie pop: swooning, yet jolly, songs that wreak of innocence. Their songs have a nice flow to them, and feature bass lines that perfectly tie them up, like bows on birthday presents.
It’s all simple, enjoyable pop played with real enthusiasm. Hares all seem very nice – which they confirm at the end of the set by giving away free copies of their new 7″ single, Pink Radio.
Patch William arrive looking much more rock ‘n roll, in classic white T-shirt and black jeans style. Predictably, their music too is more guitar-based, with just a touch of distortion. It’s pretty standard indie stuff, but they’ve got some good catchy songs. In truth, however, there’s hardly time to decide whether they’re really any good or not, since they bring the set to an end after what feels like three songs.
There’s barely time to wonder why Patch William’s set was cut so short before Hoodlums take over. They’re enthusiastically expressive from the off, as frontman Lou Vainglorious becomes the embodiment of ‘singing like you mean it’ on the quietly catchy The Great Outsiders.
Lou’s theatrical performance style is unleashed on the grin-inducing Forget A Friend, as he dances with his long arms out-stretched, while Nick Pini manages to pull off dancing with a massive double bass.
The impressive tightness of their playing is visualised at wonderful points during Forget A Friend when every Hoodlum’s face darts to the nearest mic to sing the harmonies.
For Dark Horses, Lou puts the guitar aside and focuses on dancing. His whole body comes into it now as he bends down, jumps up and grabs the hands of unsuspecting members of the audience to twirl them around.
From here he quite literally has the crowd in the palm of his hand. He says dance, and everyone gets moving. He tells them to step forward, and they don’t hesitate to shift.
Eventually he has the whole audience sit down on the floor, calling it a school assembly. In reality it feels more like a love-in: everyone has their arms around each other, swaying side to side as Lou wanders into the audience, creating a mood as happy as that which engulfs Glastonbury at festival time. Then the chorus kicks in, and he gestures them all to stand up. And so they do.
The whole room appears to have fallen in love with Hoodlums tonight – so much that at the end of the night they are left chanting “one more song”. This time the audience are in control, and the band return to play Estuary Boys, featuring enthusiastic fans who are brought to the ‘stage’ to dance and sing along with them. There’s just something about Hoodlums that abolishes inhibitions.