First things first – The Loft music venue is an absolute hidden gem on Albert Road. It looks great, it’s intimate confines adorned with old theatre and gig posters which give it an almost nostalgic, lived in aesthetic. Ok, there’s a thin line between tired and lived in perhaps but this place certainly does have a real charm about it. The sound is great (thankfully) and is a venue size (think half the capacity of The Wedgewood Rooms) a city like Pompey needs. My only gripe was the stage lighting – the band seemed to be playing in a darkened corner at times when the ‘spotlights’ failed – but hopefully that will be rectified soon as more top gigs will be happening here over the next few months. Tonight’s show is being promoted by Pie & Vinyl and talking to them after the show they are very excited at the forthcoming Loft shows they’ve got lined up.
So, Amber Arcades. You may have heard their song ‘It Changes’ which picked up quite a bit of radio play last year or indeed caught their album ‘Fading Lines’ with its tunes full of lush pop hooks and gorgeous blissful guitars and melodies. Originally a solo project from Annelotte De Graaf, a self-produced demo tape was picked up by legendary label Heavenly, a live band was formed and the songs toured. Tonight, De Graaf and her band are on excellent form in front of an appreciative audience. De Graaf is herself effortlessly cool, head bowed, her long blonde hair falling over her face as she strums the first few chords of opening track ‘Simple Song.’ Lifted from their upcoming second album it’s full of dreamy 60s pop chords.
Another new one – ‘Goodnight Europe’ with it’s obvious political subtext (something which is understandable as De Graaf’s day job is a legal aid for Syrian refugees in her hometown of Utrecht) has a terrific lilting melody that, despite the absence of the record’s string section, comes through beautifully in the chorus and for me is a highlight of the set. In fact, many of the new songs on show tonight – 9 of the 16 played – offer a slightly more measured approach than De Graaf’s earlier output. ‘Something’s Gonna Take’ – halfway through the set – is a prime example of this hazy, almost laconic pop sound with every note and instrument part sounding precise yet loose at the same time. When ‘It Changes’ does make an appearance near the end of the night it certainly does mark a shift in tempo and it’s paired with the head bobbing thrust of ‘Fading Lines’ (the title track of their album) that leads the set to a shimmeringly glorious end.
For those of you who know the End of the Road festival then this band would be perfect on the Garden Stage just as the sun is going down. That stage has got to be my favourite in the country but tonight, catching the rather splendid Amber Arcades at the Loft, I’ve suddenly found my new favourite stage in Portsmouth.
Photos by Phil Horton