It’s been nearly six years since The Evenings last performed in Oxford, and tonight was always destined to be as much about nostalgia as anything else. There’s nothing wrong with that; as much as the band’s music was about rambunctious beats – often by the dextrous hands of drummer/frontman Mark Wilden – and joyous electro-tinged melodies, it also possessed a rich emotional core. What is nostalgia, if not emotions viewed through the lens of time passing.
A short opening set from the combined forces of The Evenings and Tiger Mendoza (making for a 10+ combined member count crammed onto the small Wheatsheaf stage) provides a neat dot-joining experiment between the old and the new. Tiger Mendoza is a contemporary beats’n’melodies’n’noise outfit with music informed by dubstep and grime, The Evenings explored similar territories but several years earlier. It’s a marvellous fifteen minutes, opening with Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ before impressively combining the sounds of both bands into something coherent and attention-grabbing.
Tiger Mendoza follow with a set in their own right, and hint at a modern take on both Republica and Babylon Zoo, albeit with none of the horror that such a description might suggest. Complex electronica is augmented with frantic guitar and vocals that include guest spots from Asher Dust and The Half Rabbits’ Michael Weatherburn. Next, The Half Moon All Stars provide a surprising interlude, with a collection of jolly folk songs played and sung from the space in front of the stage, the music projected into a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The downside of this contrast with the sonic richness and chaos of what went before (and, indeed, what follows) is that many treat the set as an opportunity to chat and get a drink. Such is the lot of ‘the middle band’.
Finally, The Evenings, with a line-up that includes precisely none of the original members except Wilden – a slightly perverse but somehow fitting approach to ‘reforming’ a band which always had a fluid set of players and an off-kilter worldview. The set includes a number of fondly-remembered songs such as ‘Let’s Go’, ‘I Didn’t Remember’ and ‘Fizzy Piss’, and for half an hour it genuinely does feel like The Evenings have never been away. They were always a tightly-run, super-proficient outfit, and reached great heights tonight. They also always had a sense of theatre and community, and as tonight’s gig descends into crowdsourced a cappella, ultimately, the gig is a room full of good spirits and bonhomie.