I found myself at DB’s in Utrecht again last night. The poster on the door read “Mars Red Sky + Howart,” so I went inside. Beer could be ordered in the back and to my surprise they had some nice ones imported from Germany on the ready. With my head still at Desertfest Berlin, I laid down some coins, got beers in exchange and went inside the venue where it was warm like my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve.
Support for the stoner-psych headliners took the form of a local band named Howart. They played a set that felt like the shortest thing I’ve ever seen, but once the band left the stage and I looked at the clock, it turned out I was sorely mistaken. They played dreamy passages of psychedelic pop that passed a baton back and forth from hard and slow to spacey and even slower. The sound of the drums filled up most of the space, resembling an arena sound without being cheesy, and kept the songs grounded as the guitars, samples, and even harmonicas tried to detach themselves and float away. The music completely enveloped my being, distorting my sense of time and space.
It didn’t take long after Howart’s set before Mars Red Sky came on. There wasn’t much of a crowd to speak of, at most forty people, so I guess the band felt that there was no sense in making us wait. This informal environment worked in the band’s favor; the tickets were priced right to avoid any unreasonable expectations and the small crowd kept things laid back. Mars Red Sky aren’t one of the front runners in the scene and probably won’t be found on a larger stage in Holland anytime soon, but that’s more our fault, the listeners of music, than theirs as professional mind blowers. Personally, I think that Julien Pras and his cronies deserve a larger setting to give their heavy, fuzzy tones the room they need to breathe. They have their sound worked out to the finest detail and certainly in these small venues, it‘s just bursting at the seams. So when Mars Red Sky opened their set with wah-filled conviction and intricate interplay which made me think, “Oh, that’s how they do that,” it was all the more rewarding.
The instrumental opening served its purpose, but I was there for the songs with singing in them. For me that meant that the set really got going once “Hovering Satelites,” the leadoff single from “Stranded in Arcadia,” kicked in. Though I thought Pras shared vocals with bassist Jimmy Kinast on this song, such vocal harmonizing was left out of their live execution. Instead, Julien opened his throat wide and let the notes soar as he sang “we’re but hovering satellites, stuck and high on some blinding light.” What came as a surprise, however, was the reticent vocal harmony that Pras and Kinast pulled out of their pockets for “Marble Sky.” This was a thing of sheer psychedelic bliss; from stage right the lower register delivered with swing and from stage left the higher notes coming in like Pras was sharing a secret with us.
All secrets aside, there was nothing subtle about the band’s set. They were heavy from beginning to end, even in the quiet snare roll part of “Strong Reflection.” Mars Red Sky put their control of sound on display and defined being quietly heavy. Whether it was the recurring Beatles-like interlude in “Join the Race,” the push and pull of “Holy Mondays” or the slow trudge of “The Light Beyond,” the band exhibited a set which encapsulated the draw of Mars Red Sky. They were in a flow and took us on a joy ride through space. There was only one downside and that was that I had to leave early to catch my last train home. I did so with lead in my shoes, so let’s hope they come back soon.
Thanks to the band for letting me take some blurry photographs and also thanks to Claire from Purple Sage for getting me on the list
Words by: Victor Van Ommen