Would-be support bands, take note: if you want to make an entrance then invade the venue and drag punters from the bar area into the gig room with the power of your crazy tunes. This is what three of South-East Londoners Tankus The Henge do, creeping down the stairs, then bursting upon us in the manner of a manic circus act. Anywhere else, this kind of theatricality might seem out of kilter with a tiny dive bar. But in the plush surroundings of the Lexington, with its louche American hunting lodge vibe – maroon flocked wallpaper, and antlers mounted on the wall – it works seamlessly. Accompanied by a saxophonist and a trumpeter, frontman Jaz Delorean whirls and wields an accordion in a way that’s both scary and hypnotic; so when he suggests we come up and watch the band’s set, we can hardly refuse. Looking like a ragtag bunch of Dickensian street urchins, and sounding like Romany gypsies that have drunkenly stumbled into a Greek wedding, the six-piece put on a wonderfully eccentric show, singing songs about girls with petrol blue eyes, and ‘holding hands and jumping off buildings together’, with a steampunk piano as the visual centrepiece. With bright tunes and dark themes (plus a large dose of weirdness), it’s impossible to not be won over their energy, and the band even throw in a RATM-style breakdown in there as a final curveball.
With Sweet Sweet Lies on next, the admiring crowd gather thicker and faster. Despite the band’s presence as a sort of return-the-favour for headliners Billy Vincent playing their own album launch in February, there is a prevailing sense that they are instead the main attraction. Sharp-suited and -booted, like early 60s mods, they launch without fuss into a maudlin and sonorous rendition of current single ‘The Day I Change’. In person, it’s clear how hard one half of dual frontmen Dominic Arnall works to maintain that distinctive growling vibrato; the effect is not only visual but palpable, and you can actually feel his commitment to the sound. But the band’s sound is very much a collective effort, and a fine example of of teamwork is displayed on non-album cut ‘Turn Out The Light’, about “the richest organisation in this country”, as introduced by Arnall. Along with co-frontman Michael Hayes, their sublime harmonizing weaves a gently brutal tale about the insidious power of the Church: ‘They said he was disgraceful, said he wasn’t well / Told him he was damned that day, and that he’d go to hell.’ Even amongst their gamut of noirish, alternative pop tunes, this stands out as a especially poignant moment.
Quite frankly, the Brightonians could play the entirety of ‘The Hare, the Hound & The Tortoise’ in track order with studio-perfect precision, and no one would complain, but they decide to make minor changes to good effect. ‘Valentine’ goes from a slow to a speedy waltz, while the other Hayes-starring moment, ‘Winter Of Discontent’ has its Flamenco feel upgraded with a harder, rockier edge that turns it Tarantinoesque. Coming to an end on the wickedly elastic bass boom of ‘Capital Of Iceland’, Sweet Sweet Lies finish with a flourish, and leave behind only a sense of regret that they didn’t have more stage time. And as any band worth their salt knows – support or not – you keep them coming back by leaving them wanting more.