Pom Poko / Personal Trainer @ The Caves, Edinburgh, 21 Apr

Following a hostile welcome to The Caves in Edinburgh tonight, a stacked lineup of Pom Poko, Personal Trainer and The Itch offers a quick vibe shift

Live Review by Tallah Brash | 22 Apr 2024
  • Pom Poko

We don’t feel particularly welcome when we rock up at The Caves tonight. The cobbles that pave Niddry Street directly outside the venue’s entrance are covered in soupy puddles of milk and water. It transpires that a disgruntled neighbour has been throwing the aforementioned liquids out of their window at tonight’s gig-goers and, according to the very relaxed bouncer who greets us further down the street, it’s been going on for a while. He tells us the police claim they can’t do anything about it as no damage has been done. Wtf!?

We look up at the old tenements, and run quickly to the awning-covered entrance unscathed. Fortunately, there's a vibe shift once inside the venue, and the crowd are very welcoming of tonight's lively opening act. With only one single to their name so far (Ursula), London electronic post-punk outfit The Itch are all static synths, 808 claps, thick bass, cowbell, disco drums and lyrics about Cafe Oto, Speedy Wunderground and Ursula K. Le Guin among other things. They sound fantastic on their first outing in Edinburgh.

There's an air of Wetherspoons about the between-band portions of tonight's show as people chatter over a barely-there playlist. But when the lights go down, Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way blares out the PA, signalling the slightly later than promised arrival of Dutch indie rock troupe Personal Trainer. There’s a playfulness to the septet tonight as they whip through a 15-song set, mostly mined from 2022's excellent Big Love Blanket, with older cuts like Fiddlefunk and Muscle Memory thrown in for good measure alongside latest single Intangible, and the as-yet-unreleased New Bad Feeling. Frontman Willem Smit is happy to chat in-between songs; telling us about the trading cards he's designed that you can buy at the merch desk, he also recalls playing The Caves previously in support of fellow Dutch outfit Pip Blom. Acknowledging the situation outside, he gestures towards the entrance and laughs, asking, “What’s up with that!?”

Most of PT's songs land hard tonight, although Rug Busters feels weirdly sluggish. But by the end, energy abounds in Key of Ego, Milk and The Lazer, with Smit lost in a whirlwind of lyrical gibberish as a precariously balanced percussionist plays instruments with his feet, more than making up for the mid-set lull. More Lenny Kravitz plays following the band’s exit – this time, It Ain't Over Til It's Over – before the lights come up.

Photo of Personal Trainer.
Image: Personal Trainer by Tom van Huisstede

The crowd reorganises itself, with Pom Poko aficionados now in pole position for this part of the Bella Union double-header. The Norwegian four-piece arrive on stage with zero bravado and make one hell of a good racket; a couple standing next to us had been in for Personal Trainer, but decide to stay for Pom Poko. "Holy Shit!" one of them states after the mid-set double whammy of Like a Lady and Follow the Lights, the latter featuring a thrilled Ragnhild Fangel on cowbell in-between delivering her never-short-of-astonishing vocals.

The front half of the set leans more on 2021’s Cheater, while the latter half brings big hitters from 2019’s Birthday with a few new songs along the way too – the brand new Go, and the recently released Champion, the title track from their forthcoming new record. By the end of the set, drummer Ola Djupvik is taps aff for closer If U Want Me 2 Stay, and it feels deserved as Pom Poko haven’t let up once during tonight’s co-headline show. It's an absolute masterclass in knotty and dynamic math rock and post-punk, with Fangel's crystalline vocal given the space to punch through and truly soar. If you ever get the chance to see Pom Poko live, run, don’t walk. Incidentally, this is also good advice when leaving The Caves tonight.

pompoko.no / personaltrainertheband.com / instagram.com/theitch_music