It’s been nearly 8 months since Deaf Havana have performed live. After a turbulent time following release of their under rated album “Old Souls”, and becoming jaded with the industry, they’re back with a renewed perspective on music and a new album in the offering. Tonight’s show at the Academy 2 in Oxford is being used as a warm-up show before a summer of UK festival dates, which includes a headline slot at 2000 Trees in Cheltenham.

Before the East Anglian sextet hit the stage we were treated to a support slot from Brighton-based pop-rockers The Gospel Youth. This is a band who, astonishingly, have only been together six months and even features a frontman/bass guitarist that has only been playing bass since January. None of this is apparent as they storm through all the tracks from their latest EP “Empires” as well as a couple of older tracks, including debut single “Kids”; all as tight as you’d normally expect for a band that’s been playing together for years. I predict big things for this band and said as much to Frontman Sam after their set. EP title track “Empires” is their last track and highlight of the set, an absolute belter. If you like anthemic rock in the vein of Fallout Boy or The Gaslight Anthem then they’re worth 25 minutes of your time with the new EP, relased July 13th through Speaking In Tongues Records.

After a sweaty 30 minute wait for the headliners, Deaf Havana launched into their set like they’d never been away. The tone was set early on: this show was very much a thank you for the fans. Kicking off with the alternate mandolin-driven version of “The Past Six Years” the guys followed up with a bunch of tracks from ‘Fools and Worthless Liars’, before launching into crowd pleasers “Smiles All Round” and a trio of singles from ‘Old Souls’; including “Boston Square”, that fired the crowd up. It was easy to see that this show and the crowd reaction genuinely meant a lot to the band, and they have worked hard to hone their craft. It was clearly evident by the tighter than tight sound, chemistry between the whole band (who have all been friends since school), and the perfect vocal harmonies between lead man James Veck-Gilodi, his brother Matt and Max Britton behind the keys. Evidently beautiful in a rendition of somber ballad “Saved” – featuring some sublime bluesy lead guitar work from the frontman in lieu of the standard lap steel for this track.

James’ constant praise and thanks to the crowd for sticking with them feels heartfelt and not at all forced – a band who seem grateful that they can still sell tickets and perform to a passionate fan-base after being messed around so much by this most fickle of industries in the past couple of years.

The heat, by this point, was unbearable for both the crowd and band. Shirts were drenched in sweat under the lights but not even this intense temperature could dampen anyone’s spirits, and they soldiered on like it wasn’t a factor. Banging out perfect versions of “Anemophobia” – which is a real highlight – followed by new song “Trigger”, which fits somewhere between their sounds on “Fools and Worthless Liars” and “Old Souls”, went down a storm with the sell-out crowd.

A nod to their early days with a stunning rendition of “Friends Like These” got the whole crowd singing at the top of their lungs, then lead straight into “The World or Nothing”, which sounds bigger than a big thing in a live setting.

They even took a few minutes out of their set to Face Time drummer Tom Ogden who wasn’t able to join them on the tour as his wife had given birth 4 days prior – which makes the whole show even more remarkable, as their friend and session drummer Craig Reynolds had 3 days to learn the entire set… and didn’t miss a single beat.

A finale of “Mildred”, which sees Matt Veck-Gilodi taking the lead vocal reins (and gets the crowd circle pitting!), “Caro Padre”, showcasing JVG’s superb vocal range, and finally “Hunstanton Pier”, the tribute to their hometown, sends the whole crowd into a frenzy. Havana seem intent on making the most of this renewed vigor and the fresh start they’ve given themselves (having mentioned that they were close to disbanding shortly before recording of the new album began), and this show was evidence of that. Absolutely stellar from start to finish, with passionate performances and musical maturation clearly since their last tour back in December ‘14. The chemistry between the entire band is clear and gives an added edge to their live performance. Anyone with tickets to any of the festivals they are appearing at this summer are in for a real treat from a criminally under-rated home grown band.

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Photos: Ben Taylor – Hectic Designs Photography