The Birthday Massacre – The Exchange Bristol (11/11/22)9th December 2022
It’s Friday, November 11th and it’s yet another gig night over the bridge for me, for ALL ABOUT THE ROCK. Thankfully, REBECCA BLACK is nowhere in sight, (Whatever did happen to her? Not that we ACTUALLY care) …but, this reviewer, is on his annual Winter Goth Getaway, to check out something dark and funky. Very nice, very evil, if you will. I’m in good company, thanks to The One And Only Oakley™ and we’re looking forward to another adventure of in-jokes, beers, banter, and, oh yeah, THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE live at THE EXCHANGE. Here’s what went down…
We get into Bristol quite early on to sort out parking, and allow ourselves time to check into our hotel, grab some grub, and indulge in that all-important activity of pre-drinking. It’s beyond a ritual at this point, it’s more like a competitive sport where you play against yourself. Mixing pints and rum by lunchtime is only going to go one of two ways really, but we soldier through and hope for the best, as we eventually make our way to the venue.
A first-time visit for this reviewer, The Exchange on face value looks to be an interestingly compact little venue, and it’s sold out, so we’re preparing ourselves for a sweaty night ahead. However, it’s got that proper no-frills gig vibe with cans of Red Stripe, two for £7 at the bar so that more than compensates. We literally lose count by the end of the night! As far as small venues go though, it’s a good one.
We’ve got three artists advertised on tonight’s line-up, and just as I’ve said in the past, it’s better to come early to catch all of them, because if you aren’t familiar with support acts work, you will always potentially find something new that you enjoy, and that’s exactly what happened with our opener tonight; WITCH OF THE VALE . The Scottish duo, consisting of Erin and Ryan Hawthorne, is an ethereally dark electronic outfit, that combines a sense of Nordic, Gothic folklore with dramatic, icy atmospherics, and they chill the early crowd in all of the right ways. A relatively new band, their debut album “Commemorate” came out in 2020 and the bulk of their setlist tonight is derived from that, with a handful of tracks appearing on prior EPs, just recycled.
Highlights here include “Death Dream” and “Gods And Monsters” …the sweetness of Erin’s voice beautifully accompanies the soft synths that an Elk-skin clad Ryan delivers from his keyboard. It’s got a very Viking vibe to it visually, but musically, the former here is soft but retains simple effective hooks, while the latter sings of an inner struggle, referencing JIM MORISSON and some powerful lyrics… ”In the land of Gods of monsters I was an angel, looking to get fucked hard…”. Morally, spiritually and mentally torn, this is fantastic.
What’s BETTER though? I’ll tell you what…their version of JOHNNY CASH’s cover of “Hurt”. Jesus fucking Christ, this was astounding. An emotional rendition, to begin with, they do it all of the justice with their stripped-back, haunting delivery and this is nothing less than beautiful. I can only applaud and recommend this duo, with the only downside to their set, being the overly minimalist stage presence. Awkward silences between songs, and next to no crowd interaction. I know it’s a mood, a vibe, but if that is the only thing you can pick at, they are doing something right, these should certainly be on your radar.
Next up, we liven things up just a tad thanks to the blood rush that is VANILLA SUGAR . The Los Angeles-based artist (Real name Jessica Perry) is a committed one-woman show, and she uses and experiments with electronica, samples, and alt. rock to fuse together her interesting solo act. Her set has vocal distortion, pop hooks, and subtle R’n’B influences amidst biting guitars and flowing synths for an admittedly challenging listen.
With her pink and black PVC outfit, it’s very much a case of all eyes on her as she performs her arthouse-esque set, while the crowd decides between her being purely self-indulgent or legitimately intriguing. I lean towards intriguing, as tracks like “Hey Boi” and “Keep A Secret” house promise, as she leans towards artists like KERLI and PORCELAIN BLACK in terms of presentation. Different, but that’s never a bad thing.
Finally, then, it’s time for tonight’s headliners THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE  and this is LONG overdue. Not only did they release their newest album “Fascination” this year to unsurprising acclaim, but they were also following on from their 2020 album “Diamonds” which was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Essentially a two-album-tour, how would they treat tonight’s show? Nostalgically, that’s how. Of course, new cuts like “Precious Hearts” and the new album’s title track make the cut, but they omit “Like Fear, Like Love”, which is genuinely disappointing. The latter album gets nothing! NOTHING! Not even “Run”?! As a fan, this is a travesty!
The rest of the set is a smorgasbord of past tunes and treats ranging from their frankly underappreciated career. Older tracks like “Blue” and “Happy Birthday” raise veteran singalongs, while “All Of Nothing”, “Destroyer” and fan favorite “Red Stars” keep the now very sweaty throng entertained. There are no heartfelt complaints here, don’t get me wrong, the issue is, over the years, The Birthday Massacre have absolutely spoiled us for choice regarding hit songs, catchy tunes, synth-pop bangers, and light-Goth gorgeousness, and we could just as easily make a set-list of songs they DIDN’T play, and for that, we have to applaud Chibi and co.
I can’t nit-pick too much regarding the set, it’s their show, they can play what they want, and this reviewer absolutely loved what they played, but I could have easily stayed another hour or so and not gotten bored. There was a slight delay in the show as someone in the front needed medical attention, possibly through dehydration or, something along those lines, but that was truly the only dampener on an otherwise brilliant show. The Birthday Massacre has its niche style, and its tried and tested formula, as I have said in the past, and even now, by sticking to it, they continue to do no wrong as recording artists. Brett and Chibi, it was a pleasure once again, I thank you, and as always, I look forward to the next time. This is far from the end of all stories.