Plastic Mermaids at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth REVIEW: ‘An arresting mish-mash of styles’

The Isle of Wight’s Plastic Mermaids are tough to pigeonhole – and that’s just the way it should be.

Monday, 18th March 2019, 9:40 am
Updated Monday, 18th March 2019, 9:46 am
Plastic Mermaids at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. Picture: Paul Windsor

With a dash of Grandaddy’s woozy folktronica and wonky synths, a pinch of Sigur Ros’ post-rock, a soupcon of The Flaming Lips’ psychedelia and a love of instrument swapping that they share with fellow islanders The Bees, the five-piece’s sound is an arresting mish-mash of styles and genres.

In fact, the stage at the Square Tower can rarely have been this full of instruments and cables which makes those swapping manoeuvres entertainingly problematic. They are masters of the slow-build, often starting with simple piano or guitar line before piling on the instruments and effects.  Recent single 1996 is an effective opener – a real earworm. Brothers Douglas and Jamie Richards trade lead vocals – Douglas’ warmer tones a counterpoint to Jamie’s brittle falsetto. By the third song, Jamie has clambered on top of the equipment cases at the side of the stage, playing his guitar with a violin bow as the cases wobble precariously.

The medieval Square Tower is an atmospheric venue that often inspires acts to play at the top of their game, and tonight was no different. Ostensible last song, Saturn is an expansive, explosive piece. Guest vocalist Flo Bradbury – decked out in a marvellous tinsel gown – delivers a powerhouse performance that is practically operatic, winning a much-deserved cheer, before the song climaxes with a mutant-disco blowout. Jamie admits that at this point they would normally leave the stage before the encore, but the rather cramped stage would make this awkward, so they opt to just play on.

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Plastic Mermaids at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. Picture: Paul Windsor

They finish with another new track, Luliuli, which allows drummer Chris Jones to step out from behind his kit to sing the song’s intro, and it’s another beautiful slow-burner. It all bodes very well for their debut album Suddenly Everyone Explodes, due out in May.  And as they’ve already conquered every venue on the island, with this short run of intimate, sold out shows, it’s looking good for this side of The Solent too.  In a just world, they’ll be soundtracking the summer.

Plastic Mermaids at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. Picture: Paul Windsor