Balthazar // Live Review

Hoxton Bar and Kitchen – February 27th


Canals, chocolates, battlefields, bilingual – these are probably the words which most readily come to mind when people play word association games about Belgium. Rock – we can almost safely say – is not one of them (ok, there’s Brel, but he was more on the chanson side of things). If this perception ever changes, Balthazar will have had a hand in that transformation. And this gig shows us why.

This outfit from the provincial Belgian city of Ghent faces the challenge of performing in front of a cucumber-cool Hoxton audience – admittedly, one which is supplemented by supporters from the band’s homeland. From the confident, opening greeting of ‘Hello London’ it proves that it is more than able to face the fight and carry off the prize. On ‘Lion’s Mouth’ a dreamy yet doomy sound – backed-up with plenty of dry ice – like the opening music of a Hammer Horror film, leads into a vocal blast of a dirge-like lament. The loss-themed ‘Later’ combines portentous synthesizer swirls with powerful drumming to give a chuggy beat for this violent, impassioned song about love and loss, themes which are also explored in ‘Boatman’ with its heartfelt plea for a journey back to ‘nights we used to share.’

Bands face the temptation to rely on noise – and not in a Spector-like fashion as a creatively-thrilling, spine-tingling wall of sound. This band resists that temptation. It gives us music, not simply sound, and manages to merge blasting beats with poppy-boppy bounciness, with the latter especially noticeable on the whirling happiness of ‘Leipzig’. This form of happy-tough sound dealing with dark subjects may either be a form of irony, or maybe reflects a European love of rock-pop music as an antidote to the Continent’s grim history. Whatever the reason, it’s effective on both levels. Thus, in ‘Oldest’ we get a jumpy, joyful feel as the singer rejects silly love games, with a seagull-like screech of music at the song’s end.

It’s customary to close reviews with mention of the encore. ‘Joker’s Son’ came around the set’s half-way mark, but it’s relevant to give it pride of place here. The song makes mention of lost fame. On the showing of tonight’s gig – for which, incidentally, all the tickets were sold out – that’s something Balthazar shouldn’t have to worry about.