Cutaways stand out against a jazz-rock backdrop

A rain-sodden night in Belfast can really deter you from the city's more culturally enriching pursuits, especially when the pursuit in question is an evening of relatively new bands playing in a venue way off your bus route. The venue in question is the Pavillion. Great for the footie, food and pool but maybe less famously, excellent for gigs.

The band I’ve come to see isn’t the headlining act this evening. Top billing goes to Derby-based instrumental noiseniks Alright the Captain, a little more of whom later.

Second on the bill are stars-in-waiting Cutaways. The band's debut album Earth and Earthly Things proves that they have the sound. And in terms of image it’s nice to see a group forfeit the earnest uniform of sartorial conformity which is somehow meant to signify 'authentic’ music. Frontman Paul McIvor and keyboardist/ singer Grace McMacken forge a relatively affecting aesthetic.

Of course, it's possible to have both style and substance. Whether the style takes the form of an easy swagger or a nice cravat, you know it when you see it. Cutaways stand out not just because they possess a little style but also because they possess a pleasant line in bittersweet boy-girl harmonies. Earth and Earthly Things revealed a band with a genuine, developing pop sensibility augmented by a compelling, frantic energy.

But it’s as a live act (honed by high-profile gigs at festivals like Glasgowbury and Indie Week Ireland in Limerick) that Cutaways really make sense. The dynamic of their saccharine-sweet harmonies is kept the right side of Deacon Blue by an uptight, angular and ridiculously danceable set. The melodic limitations of certain album tracks are steamrollered by the relentless verve of live performance. The controlled cacophony of jagged guitar, clattering synths and splattered emotions excels on stage.

This is never more apparent than on 'I Don’t Understand What You Don’t Say', which is transformed from a ‘pull your pigtails in the playground’ ditty into a monstrously compulsive stomp. But Cutaways’ tuneful frothy fare is starkly and especially highlighted tonight because they're sandwiched between headliners Alright the Captain and support act Double Handsome Dragons.

As with And So I Watch You From Afar, the instrumental rock stylings of both Alright the Captain and Double Handsome Dragons veer from ‘jazz odyssey’ moodscapes to fist-making stadium-rousers. Boy bands in the truest sense of the phrase, you feel that their core audience will be male. Specifically, spotty undergraduate males who are likely to make ironic devil horn hand-signs. 

As is the wont of boy bands everywhere, they’re accompanied by an infectiously boyish vim. Unfortunately such blandishments, while welcome, at times offer the impression that they’re enjoying themselves much more than the audience. But it's the fault of neither that they happen to be so similar as to make Cutaways stand out.

Tonight it’s a case of chalk and cheese, pop and rock. No bad thing. It’s always nice to mix it up a bit. Cutaways have the no-nonsense star potential, but I'd bet Alright the Captain get more bedroom downloads.

Joe Nawaz

Earth and Earthly Things by Cutaways is out now. The band perform live in August and October. Click here for details.