It sounds depressing, but sometimes it pays to lower your expectations. Not every gig can change your life; in fact if they did it would be pretty damn exhausting. That’s not to say you shouldn’t always aspire to hear something special, just not to be too disappointed when you don’t. Accentuate the positive and so on. If you’ve already got that down then you would have been pretty ideally placed – at least mentally – to catch Swamp Lizard playing at the Lansdowne Hotel. It was a young local band playing in an early slot to a small crowd of moderately interested patrons, and that was how it sounded. Looking somewhere between fourteen and twenty-five years of age in their vaguely pop-punky attire, they took the stage and played some forty-five minutes of loud, grungy, oh-so-slightly poppy rock. There were a few good ideas and a lot of what people seem to call ‘attitude’. They had their thing, and they got up and did it. Providing your expectations weren’t set too high, they weren’t bad.

They definitely had a sound, and it was a little different, though it wasn’t entirely theirs. With some variations (a female singer not least among them), they effectively reproduced the ambience– the good aspects and the bad – of Nirvana as heard on their first album, 1989’s Bleach. That album was a triumph of style rather than songcraft, often relying more on its bleak, cathartic rumble than on strong riffs and melodies, which when present were often hamstrung by needless repetition. That being said, it was a pretty cool vibe, and it was similarly a decent sound rather than compositional chops that best served the kids from Swamp Lizard. Their songs were not so much compositions as collections of various semi-related musical ideas, with changes in tempo, key and structure scattered throughout. But the delivery was right; the singer’s atonal growl was kinda cool, her guitar had an interesting tone and a few neat riffs, and the bassist moved energetically, if nothing else. Presumably he was playing something, or the floor wouldn’t have rumbled so much. Though these instruments were vastly overpowered by the drums in the mix, as seems to be the rule in pub gigs, this did grant a bit of well deserved attention to the busy and powerful playing by the group’s drummer. Though occasionally sounding somewhat brittle and forced, he’s clearly talented, whoever he is (their Myspace yields no answers).

So yeah, they were nothing revolutionary. But they weren’t bad. They had a sound, and it sounded like them. You could nod your head to it. You could tell the band was tight. You could look across to the person next to you and mouth ‘not bad’. They were clearly playing music that they enjoyed and that they believed in, regardless of what we might have thought. That’s the kind of attitude that keeps local music alive, regardless of the genre or the locality in question, and it would be nice to have a bit more of it rather than the simpering blandness that grips so many rock bands today. The Lansdowne Hotel is never going to be Madison Square Garden; you will get local bands at loud volume and your expectations must be lowered accordingly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the likes of Swamp Lizard. With a comfortable couch, a spot near the heater and someone else getting the next round, they don’t sound bad at all.

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