HMLTD @ Opium, Edinburgh, 15 Feb

The London glam punks spring into action in the upstairs of Edinburgh's Opium nightclub, but their dedicated fans are the real stars of the night

Live Review by Jo Higgs | 21 Feb 2020

Barely a week on from the eventual release of their long-held up debut album West of Eden, HMLTD spring to rather performatively grandiose life in the minimalistic attic-like space of Edinburgh’s Opium nightclub. After having seen waves of flattering praise in their early days, complications with their ex-label and accusations of appropriating queer culture brought the London-based band down from their pedestal of hype and pushed them not too far from obscurity. On their album release tour, they seek to prove themselves as thrilling as they ever had been.

Before they take to stage, SPQR – decked out in Devo-esque white uniforms – blast through a brief set of jilted rhythms and endearingly awkward melodies. The four-piece's strength is demonstrated by tightly interlinked bass and drums while spasmodic guitar chords are stabbed repeatedly into the torso of each track. However, the brutish instrumentals are occasionally neutered by attempts at ‘big chorus’ harmonies that always seem to see at least one vocalist falling flat.

HMLTD take residence on Opium’s low stage, kitted out in a mismatch of rather individual outfits that seem just about tied together thematically by their bold and quirky aesthetics. One guitarist is a flat-capped militant, the other an androgynously moustachioed glam god, while frontman Henry Spychalski sports greasy slicked back blonde hair and a saltire-endowed jacket he jokes has been borrowed from Nicola Sturgeon. 

They open with the first few tracks from their new album and manage to conjure a greater magic than the recordings themselves provide. Yet several tracks in (no longer adhering to West of Eden’s tracklisting), this vital power fades to a low ember. Every once and a while it perks up to flames, often roaring at points such as in the surreal ballad-turned-chilling singalong of Satan, Luella & I or the spaghetti western cyber punk of To the Door. 

There are only two constant forces that see the set through its highs and lows. There's Spychalski’s fun but not quite impressive sense of theatricality, with his limbs flailing around in all directions and his charming faux-operatic vocals. More important – in fact, the lynchpin of the whole live show – is the endlessly enthusiastic and ecstatic energy emanating from a sizeable group of dedicated fans swarming just in front of the stage.

With HMLTD and SPQR, any need for acronymic band names is catered to with aplomb by the acts but the standout saviours of the night are undoubtedly the swathes of dedicated fans that crept down to Edinburgh’s Cowgate, mid-storm, to ensure there was a palpable energy for the bands to feed off.