Jonah Matranga @ The Frog & Fiddle

So I took a field trip down to Cheltenham last weekend, all because I really, really wanted to see Jonah Matranga on his latest tour.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the album ‘Water and Solutions’ by his former band Far. To mark the occasion, he’s been performing the album in its entirety. Now, I am definitely old enough to be a fan of this album first time around, and 20 years ago Far would have been right up my street. In fact in 1998 I saw the Deftones touring with Will Haven, who were both also from Sacramento and part of the same scene as Far.

However, I have to admit that at the time, the band completely passed me by. I am familiar with some of Jonah’s solo work, since he’s performed at 2000 Trees previously, but the reason ‘Water and Solutions’ came on my radar is all off the back of an episode of the podcast ‘That’s Not Metal’ and an interview with Jamie Lenman. Himself a bit of a Trees Demi-god, Lenman picked WS as his ‘album club’ pick and so based on that recommendation, I had to give it a spin. And it turns out, it’s an absolute banger. Brutal, yet melodic; tender, yet savage.

At this point, the 20th anniversary tour hadn’t even been announced, but when it was, a performance at this year’s 2000 Trees was included in the itinerary. I went along to that performance, and it was awesome, enjoying it so much that WS all of a sudden became an even more regular fixture in my rotation.

So I was chuffed when Jonah announced a second visit to the UK and one final leg of his WS celebration. I knew I wanted to get along to one of the shows, the only problem being, all of the shows for the north of England were on dates I couldn’t make.

However, I was free on the Saturday of the Cheltenham show, and my wife was also able to donate a free hotel room for me via loyalty points she’d earned through travelling with work. The last little nudge to convince me to go to this show was the fact that for this one date of the tour Sœur were going to be one of the support acts. The trip was on!

Turning up on the day the venue itself is a cool little bar with a very obvious alternative vibe, with a converted barn at the back acting as the gig room for bands.

First on were three piece Blank Atlas. At the start of the set there were about 5 people in the room. Bonus points to the bassist who was extra energetic, jumping around the stage as if he was performing to thousands, as well as unleashing some moments of pretty evil slap bass. They soon caught people’s attention, and more and more people started to filter into the room. All three band members sing, and their harmonies are pretty impressive. My first thought was that these guys are a poor man’s Press To Meco, but then I realised that’s me being really bitchy. Press To Meco set a very high bar, and in fact these guys are really good, with plenty of big riffs and some of that good ‘ole loud/quiet/loud dynamic.

Ironically, having slagged off instrumentals in my last blog, my stand out song from Blank Atlas was the infectiously catchy riffasauraus instrumental that they unleashed a few songs into their set (…didn’t catch a name for the song, but with one solitary cry of “Oh Baby!” being the song’s sole lyric, I’m thinking that’s probably an apt title).

Next on were Sœur. Should they have been higher up the bill? For my money yes, but it didn’t stop them pulling in a crowd, the room being noticeably busier for their set. And that larger crowd seemed to respond to the performance really well. I’m not going to say too much about them as I’m running low on fangirl credits already this month, but they were bloody brilliant as always. Their new EP ‘Fight’ is out this week. Make sure you listen to it as it’s absolutely beautiful.

Third band up were I, The Lion. They set up the stage with a light show, and also had a laptop playing samples accompanying the songs. Have to say though, it all felt a bit gimmicky to me. Vocals were shared between the guitarist and bassist, and again, kudos for the tight harmonies, but other than that none of the songs really gripped me.

Oxygen Thief were the next act. First of all, what a name for a band! The WS tour is billed as ‘Jonah Matranga and Friends’ and Oxygen Thief are the friends for the night’s performance (some previous nights on the tour Jonah had Nottingham band Merricks Tusk as his backing band, whilst the set at Trees was performed with Witching Waves). However, before performing with the headliner the band get to perform a set of their own material.

The band definitely have a following and there were several Oxygen Thief t-shirts amongst the crowd. Front man Barry Dolan reminds me of a cross between Pulled Part by Horses’ Tom Hudson and the aforementioned Jamie Lenman (and he even has few mannerisms of Lenman whilst he performs too). I was particularly taken with his bright blue Doc Marten boots, which were an awesome clash with his bright orange t-shirt.

I’m trying to figure out how these guys have also passed me by. Big, meaty, catchy riffs plus poignant, often political lyrics with plenty of grunt in the mix (and even some double kick drum thrown in for the proper metal heads) – in fact very Reuben-esque to add to the Lenmanisms. I really enjoyed this set and now I feel like I need to get far better acquainted with their back catalogue (plus they also have a new album ‘Confusion Species’ dropping this week).

And so finally to Jonah Matranga. Now, I’d kind of seen the set before, and again he explained to the crowd that the album won’t be played in order, but instead will build through the tracks in terms of their intensity. Initially he took the stage alone and the sets starts with those mellower, quieter tracks from ‘Water and Solutions’ such as ‘Another Way Out’, ‘Nestle’ and ‘In 2 Again’. There’s something very tender and heartfelt about the way Jonah performs the songs. You can tell they mean a lot to him, and these first few songs, with just him and a guitar on stage add to a sense of vulnerability.

Oxygen Thief joined him on stage part way through ‘Waiting for Sunday’ as the track built to its heavy and upbeat finale. As promised, the pace and energy of the set built and built. ‘Really Here’ is the perfect bridge from the slower songs to the more upbeat numbers. ‘Man Overboard’ and ‘Mother Mary’ are great for a singalong, and I’m jumping about like a loon when personal favourite ‘I Like It’ comes on.

The brutal triumvirate of ‘The System’, ‘Bury White’ and title track ‘Water and Solutions’ sees Jonah discard his guitar, the tender vocals now giving way to guttural screams whilst he jumped around the stage and even took some trips in to the crowd as well. Whilst that sees the end of the WS tracklist we’re treated to a couple of extra songs in ‘Dear Enemy’ and the very punk ‘Love, American Style’ to sign off the set.

The whole set was captivating with Jonah giving a very raw, passionate and emotional performance. Having become more accustomed with ‘Water and Solutions’ since that 2000 Trees performance, I’m really glad I got to witness the final leg of the anniversary tour. Watching Jonah is a real treat and I hope he makes it over to these shores again.

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