Martin Phillips and band are on unbeatable form at EartH Theatre in Hackney
When we interviewed The Chills’ Martin Phillips back in May, he claimed the band’s best-ever shows have been on this latest tour. That’s a fairly standard assertion and one most would take with a pinch of marketing salt, but tonight at Dalston’s EartH Theatre, Phillips and his band spend two hours backing the claim to the hilt.
From the very start, everything’s already working in the band’s favour. The crowd is predominantly middle-aged, most looking like they own record stores for the sole purpose of convincing patrons to buy Submarine Bells. The proliferation of Flying Nun and vintage Chills t-shirts suggests that these are nothing short of devotees, eager to welcome Phillips back after a six-year absence. Flyers for Saturday’s screening of a Chills documentary at the nearby Rio Cinema are redundant; when Phillips forgets the start time, a chunk of the crowd hollers it out for him.
Also on the band’s side is the tattered opulence of the room. While many would struggle with the theatre’s copious natural reverb, it’s a perfect fit for The Chills’ ghostly indie pop. It seems to swell and bounce around the room, billowing out from the peeling walls. A rendition of ‘Submarine Bells’ is haunting to overwhelming extremes.
Phillips remains the sole constant member of The Chills but he’d do well to hang on to this bunch. Bassist Callum Hampton (who manages to play trumpet and bass simultaneously) and drummer Todd Knudson (an ever-present since the late 90s) emanate charisma. Knudson plays drums like he’s hitting them in self-defence, offering more movement than should be possible for someone sitting down (most of the time). Stage left, the phenomenally talented Erica Scally skips from violin to keys to guitar while, on the opposite side, Oli Wilson nails the skittering keys parts that are such a vital part of Phillips’ compositions.
Martin Phillips himself seems to be having an absolute ball, pausing between songs for impromptu Q&A sessions, and handing out prizes for the best question. His joy at finally remastering the upcoming re-release of The Chills’ debut album is made all the funnier when he announces that they’re only playing one more song off it tonight (following opener ‘Night Of Chill Blue’). Nobody complains when that song is the sprightly ‘Wet Blanket’. New song ‘Stay Longer’ is met with massive enthusiasm, particularly as it’s accompanied by the news that new material is en route.
The night builds and builds to the inevitable finale of ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’, which is all the more glorious in this setting. It all feels so climactic and impossible to follow that it’s easy to assume there’ll be no encore, but back they come, ripping through ‘Hourglass’ with abandon. ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ provides the actual finale, ending things with a joyful bounce. Solid proof that there’s no better balm on a sweltering night than a couple of hours with The Chills.