Esben and the Witch @ The Scala, London

26th February 2013
Review by by Victoria Fenbane
Photography Sabrina Dersel

Brighton’s Esben and the Witch are one of those pesky ‘not-goth’ bands, or as I like to call them ‘neo-goth.’ I’m sure their record label would prefer them to be called neither, but with it also being the home of Interpol, they’re probably used to it.

Being such a band means that despite sounding like an act even the most hardcore of Goths should be wetting their knickers over, the crowd at the Scala tonight is lacking in eyeliner and even black hair.

However there is plenty of hair; the majority of the spectators are bespectacled, bearded and over 35. I start to wonder if I have attended a Godspeed You! Black Emperor gig in error. The comparison between the two bands can be extended beyond fan base due to Esben’s sound scapes, however instead featuring haunting vocals of a cross between PJ Harvey and Siouxsie, and an intensity which is uniquely theirs.

Tonight they are promoting new album ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’, I last saw them in 2010 at the time or release of single ‘Marching Song’ (still their best in my opinion).

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Back then their on stage presentation was only just tinged with gothic, but today the masses of smoke and icy blue lights are gone.

There is still smoke but it’s used sparingly, and the stage itself is very sparse and brightly lit. The illusion of sparsity is exaggerated by vocalist Rachel being positioned to the far right of the stage, where a guitarist or bassist would be expected to stand.

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Leaving a front person shaped hole stage front. In fact they all seem a little awkward to be there. Too much light and not enough smoke? Maybe they’re Goths after all. This awkwardness persist throughout the show. It could be an act, but it gives the impression that they are almost embarrassed of showing off their talent.

Of which they definitely have nothing to be shy of. Perfect sound in the venue reveals a rolling gothic bass, which provides a pulsing intensity throughout the performance.

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For the ‘encore’ (more of a semi encore, as it is lacking in the usual disappearing and returning
antics ) Esben were joined on stage by support act Teeth Of The Sea, to perform ‘Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night’.

The addition of extra musicians means a doubling up of drummers and an even more driving percussion than is usual. A powerful finale.
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It was definitely one of the most sedate gigs I’ve been too, but also one of the eeriest and thought provoking. Not something many acts achieve.

Personally the gig was spoiled by a lot of people talking loudly during the quiet times, of which there were many. That’s a shame, because if those who had paid to have a chat in the auditorium of the Scala had concentrated just a little bit, they would soon have been swept up by the music and remained quiet.

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Esben and the Witch are an act that, Goths, non-goths and pretty much any fan of interesting/moving music should catch live.