South London-based trio Happyness have enjoyed a relatively large amount of success and have amassed a definite buzz, considering they have only been a band for less than year. Their breakthrough EP was met with critical acclaim, and the debut album ‘Weird Little Birthday’ received high praise from most major music publications. Their breezy, lo-fi sound and dreamy vocal delivery has often led to their music being described as American- influenced ‘college-rock’, a genre that the band tell me they only became aware of about 6 months ago. Their UK tour is due to conclude at London’s Electrowerkz on the 4th of November, and the gig at the Hare and Hounds served as preparation before the band embarks on a full week of shows in New York.
The first band on the bill is Mutes [5/10], an alt-rock band with a penchant for atmospheric effects and passionate climaxes. Their short set was solid, with a few technical difficulties and over-zealous use of guitar-pedals holding them back from making much of an impact. However, their brilliant closer sufficiently whet the audiences’ appetite for a night of quality live music. Hoopla Blue [6/10] followed, fitting into a similar category to the opening band; yet their angular riffs, more cohesive song-writing and haunting lead vocals manage to engage the thirty-person audience more successfully, and build excitement for the headline act.
Happyness [7.5/10] grace the stage in an predictably casual manner, wearing lazy-Sunday clothes that effortlessly ooze cool. They launch into ‘You Come to Kill me?!’ (from the Anything I Do Is All Right EP), one of the more faster more typically indie-pop-rock songs of their repertoire. The limitations of having only three members is noticeable – due to the absence of the lead guitar riff present on the EP – but not a hindrance. However, these practical difficulties mean that songs such as the sublime ‘Orange Luz’ and ‘Pumpkin Noir’ were not on the set-list and are almost never performed live.
That said, the band have such a rich discography that these songs were not sorely missed, and it was not until after the forty-minute set that I really noticed their absence. The trio’s performance was tight with guitar, bass and drums in complete synchronicity and (aside from the aforementioned limitations) were very true to the recordings. The band exude a sense of understated enjoyment throughout the performance, with dual-frontmen Benji (guitar) and Jonny (bass) exchanging smiles during the more upbeat moments and drummer Ashley dazedly staring up at the excessive smoke floating above his head during the low-tempo grooves.
The crowd was small and the atmosphere could’ve benefitted from a few more bobbing heads, but the band’s trademark pensive sound may not have had the same impact if it wasn’t for the intimacy. Fan favourite ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’ was a perfect example of this, with the persistent groove of bass and drums and the hazy guitar interjections causing involuntary swaying and instilling an irresistible urge to stargaze. On the other end of the spectrum, set highlight ‘It’s on You’ injected a bigger energy into the audience, compelling two girls to jive and spin in front of the stage.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the set was the prominence of the lyrics, which are often lost in the excitement of live performances. This isn’t exactly surprising as Happyness have become known for their dry lyrical wit (which was in abundance in the interview). Clever lines such as “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair, there’s a scalp-less singer of a Montreal rock band somewhere” drew smiles and chuckles from the audience. And the more haunting lines such as “remember when we broke into the park and you got laid and I watched and you said that was fun” stick out so vividly, especially as they are delivered so sweetly by the magical combination of Benji and Jonny’s voices. Whilst this wit was somewhat lacking in the stage chat -with the band introducing themselves at least four times – it was carried off with such an awareness of the awkwardness that it only served to endear the audience further with the band’s off-kilter charm.
The set ended with the closing track of the album, an aptly low-key conclusion for such a relaxed band. I left very impressed by the band’s effortless ability to write and perform such refined and hard-hitting songs, and though I was hoping for a few more songs, I was too preoccupied with a feeling of (dare I say…) unadulterated happyness to care.