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Live Review: Chlöe Howl (Nottingham Bodega)

Photo: Simon McMurdo

The ingredients for being poised as the next big thing are practically embodied by Chlöe Howl. A real personality, more potential singles than a Rihanna album and a look that is as defining as it is intrinsically ‘popstar’. The evening feels special. It’s a tiny stage, a heaving crowd and, having been announced only a week before, gives the impression that you really are witnessing something that’s about to blow up. Chlöe bounds onto the stage to open her set with an enthusiasm that is not at all phased by the hundreds of eager eyes greeting her – a good thing, as the way her star is rising, it’ll be the last time she plays venues as small as Nottingham’s Bodega.

‘Bad Dream’ is a risky set opener. It’s already nearing flawless status with a shimmering, fresh production and gorgeous tinny drums giving way to warm, summery synths in it’s infectious chorus. Surely it’ll all be downhill from here, right? Ofcourse not, you pessimists. This is the next big thing we’re talking about. ‘Disappointed’ is another instant tune  and, dare I say, another potential single? She’s just chucking them out there. It’s matter-of-fact lyric ‘frankly I’m just disappointed – I liked you like you were’ characterises her entire appeal – she says it how it is without the help of a long-winded metaphor.

Calling it a slump is heinous but midway through the set we finally get a few ‘album tracks’. ‘Drop In The Ocean”s titular lyric stutters past and brings an end to a stellar chorus – a refrain that just needs a bit more of an instrumental kick to match the gorgeous vocal lines. ‘Takes Me A Long Time’ is preceded by an embarrassed Howl explaining it was about her first heartbreak – a typical pop muse but a reliable one – with the track soaring to a huge final chorus and taking a stop off for a guitar solo too. It’d be interesting to see whether the song fits onto the record as, at least live, it sounds a lot more raw than the pristine pop songs that surround it. Speaking of which, ‘Girls and Boys’ follows and forces the tempo right back up. If you aren’t singing along by the end, you’re either deaf or boring.

We unintentionally get a bit of a Q&A with the audience as the final tracks, the big ‘uns, draw closer. ‘Paper Heart’ is pulled off without a glitch and just sounds better with every listen. It’s the production again – it shines on the verses in particular. Then it goes a bit wrong. The band get ready to play ‘No Strings’ and technical issues leave Miss Howl in the middle of the stage with a silent audience. Thankfully, she isn’t boring so we were treated to a few Justin Bieber anecdotes. She isn’t keen on the boy, if you were wondering. ‘No Strings’ is performed at a slightly slower pace and ‘Rumour’ follows, initially sounding a bit off and causing a few glances of concern from the stage, but all issues are soon ironed out just in time for the main hook. Nothing can destroy a chorus like that, not even tech issues.

What you really can feel from Chlöe’s music is pop going back to being the pop of old. Slightly off-the-wall, immeasurably catchy and not trying too hard – it is a contrast to the way the pop world works now with it’s cool, introverted mannerisms. Pop is no longer a swear word, they say. As with everything, the pop world is in one constant cycle though and half of Chlöe’s massive appeal comes from the fact that opinionated singers with a bag full of instant radio-friendly hits have been off the radar for quite some time. Howl is bringing that scene back with a healthy dose of attitude and rebellion and, most refreshingly, pop as we (used to) know it. Hallelujah.

Photo & Words: Simon McMurdo

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