Rolo Tomassi at Electric Ballroom, CamdenSupport: Heriot| Holy Fawn
February 15, 2023 at Electric Ballroom, Camden
Promoter: Atonal Music Agency
Rolo Tomassi have come a long way from the teenagers who emailed me, a fellow teenager just about to head off to university at the time, asking if they could send me their demo for review. I’ve overheard in casual conversation and even read in the last laudable vestiges of alternative music print-media the phrase “meteoric rise” associated with quintet in recent years. Nothing could be further from the truth: Rolo Tomassi have done the work, put in the hard yards, and as of 2023 are a band the age I was when they sent that demo through the mail. Eighteen years of graft, of maturing, and of honing their sound. This is no meteoric rise, no fluke, no moment in the spotlight.
And that is why Eva, James, Nathan, Chris, and Al are understandably – noticeably – emotional on this, their final date on tour, as it culminates as so many UK tours often do in London, which just so happens to be their largest headlining gig in their career to date. Not only is the place packed, but it is also brimming with press, with fellow artists, with their new record label, with friends, and even with family, all of us cheering them on, witnessing this momentous new landmark.
We are gathered in Camden’s Electric Ballroom and it’s gratifying to note that the venue is really very full already (perhaps because this bill is, pardon the parlance, stacked) as I bustle in just in time to buy a beer and to turn around to watch Heriot march onto stage.
Heriot, in stark contrast to Rolo Tomassi, do seem to be on a meteoric rise. Despite the inference that perhaps the term could be viewed negatively (and I do believe it often isn’t the best thing for a band’s progression and longevity), the quartet are certainly worthy of all the plaudits that are being thrown their way. Last year saw the release of their debut album, Profound Mortality, an absolute rager of an LP that even topped some listener’s AOTY lists online. Having seen a bludgeoning set from them at ArcTanGent I was looking forward to seeing them again, having just dropped a new single, ‘Demure’ the day before.
Despite the band and audience having immediate rapport, and a general feeling of goodwill that everyone wanted all the bands that night to nail it, there was an unfortunate something, a je ne sais quoi, that was missing during their set. The four-piece are certainly not helped by Lady Luck (technical issues) or the Electric Ballroom itself (often an unforgiving venue during anyone’s attempt at clear sound, especially for dense, complex, heavy music). They seem to somewhat wade through treacle, struggling to gain the momentum so crucial in the live setting for acts such as themselves, all the while the sound reaching these ears being overall far too muddy to enjoy thoroughly.
It’s to the band’s credit that they persevere with a commitment to the craft throughout their set – smiles and jokes during the aforementioned issues and calls for the crowd to get even crazier as they try to up the ante. Those at the very front duly oblige and although the band leave the stage possibly a little frustrated, the reception is ecstatic, with their reputation feeling like it has grown yet again. After all, the mark of a truly great band, marked for longevity, is being able to deal with adversity.
Heriot will doubtless play better sets than this in the future – perhaps they already have done – but even those who may not have quite understood the anticipation of the crowd, or translated the pervasive buzz that surrounds the band, on the merits of this one support slot this night, will surely still be noting down their name.
All three bands on the roster released albums in 2022 and its arguable that Holy Fawn may have delivered the best and most discussed record of the bunch. Dimensional Bleed is an album that has had a whole host of superlatives levelled and attached to it, with many claiming it to be the finest doomgaze record of last year, if not the 2020s so far. I was not one of that cohort, I must admit. I massively enjoyed the album but could not quite understand how it held so many in such blissful rapture. Sometimes, however, I am someone who needs to see a band before I hear their recorded output, in order to make complete ‘sense’ of it and of them. So, it was with Holy Fawn.
The Arizona natives were in euphoric mood, wrapping up their tour with Heriot and Rolo Tomassi, living their dreams of playing their music far away from home to people they hadn’t met but had touched from across continents and oceans. Their colossal, dark, brooding distorted plains that gives way to transcendent post-whatever mountain peaks made of noise and static are something to behold. The quartet are very expressive on stage, particularly their towering bass-player Alexander Rieth, who seems to directly channel much of their music not only through his instrument, but also his entire body.
It’s an interesting choice of set from the band, with only two of the seven songs they play, being from their sophomore LP. However, with the new record still being relatively recent, the decision to play a majority of tracks the audience are likely more instantly familiar with proves prudent. They depart the stage offering heartfelt thanks and it already feels like they aren’t too far from being able to play a large headline show in the capital themselves, given the rapturous applause.
With the audience well and truly warmed up, and any sound issues courtesy of the Electric Ballroom ironed out over the thunderous sonic wash of Holy Fawn, Rolo Tomassi takes to the stage with a crowd gleefully anticipating what for many will be the first time they hear songs from 2022’s Where Myth Becomes Memory. We certainly get that, but also so much more. As previously stated, this large headline concert is yet another milestone in the quintet’s journey thus far. As such, it feels like the band chose to mark that by performing a little bit of an unannounced career retrospective – with a longer set and with half of that setlist comprising of choice cuts from 2015’s Grievances and 2017’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It.
They bounce onto the Electric Ballroom’s large stage and immediately own it, blasting through the first two tracks of their latest LP, with the crowd already singing/screaming back lyrics from ‘Almost Always’ and ‘Cloaked’. As the quintet navigate through their maze-like mathy, progressive rock/metal melange, one could visibly see the joy ping-ponging between the band and their appreciative, entranced audience. Every little move, flourish or monstrous riff met with cheers. Eva remains a captivating front-person, seamlessly moving between searing clean vocals and associated pop-icon movements, to virulent, caustic screaming and the requisite headbanging. The rest of the band frame her, going equally hard and reacting off her and the loving crowd feet away from their aural bluster. When James moves forward from his perch of keyboards, to join his sister on lead vocals, Camden melts. It’s perhaps fitting that at the end of their set, their choice of encore is ‘Drip’ from the new record, as by the end of the night, no-one’s brow is without a bead or two, and quite a few eyes, including those of the band’s are watery from having concluded such a notable gig.
Their 2005 demo was raw, but my goodness it was bold, fresh, and unique. I remember writing something along the lines of, “these guys have a bright career ahead of them.” That statement was made without any experience or authority with which to say that (especially given my own age) and most assuredly written with a lack of writing ability to come up with anything beyond rather glib phrases. But, hey, it turned out I was right! For every BS assertion, you’ve got to hit the bullseye once, right?
Eighteen years later, their sound may have altered (almost) beyond recognition; but they are still on that path, laying down the foundations of new road in front of them all the time, and every now and then passing markers such as tonight. It felt special to witness yet another one with the five of them.