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Review of Inverness indie-electronica band The Joshua Hotel debuting in their home town at Mad Hatters and rolling out a near-perfect set of songs

By Margaret Chrystall

REVIEW: The Joshua Hotel

Mad Hatters, Inverness

5 stars

Even in the here and now of Mad Hatters on a Saturday night, the gentle murmur of a crowd gathering, the inspired choice of Moteh Parrott in the role of warm-up (best Seven Generations, Song For The Insects), it seemed like a crackle of invisible static energy hovered over the place.

And the little stage was dressed to kill – gold foil fringe curtain backdrop, a big moon light tucked into a corner.

The Joshua Hotel at Mad Hatters.
The Joshua Hotel at Mad Hatters.

Inverness band THE JOSHUA HOTEL were finally making their hometown debut (they've already played Glasgow's King Tut's twice). And with Lional frontman Josh Mackenzie taking this initial lockdown distraction to the next level, this wasn’t a set to miss.

Even for The Felice Brothers.

Tempting though it was to try to combine seeing the two sets, maybe racing across to the Botanic House to try to catch some of the Brothers' set, zipping back to catch the new band’s first track... been there, done that, often missed all the best bits of both when tried in the past.

Besides, is there anything more exciting than shuffling into the glare at the front of a stage to catch the first steps of a new band’s journey?

With the tantalising drip-drip of releases from The Joshua Hotel since 2021 to get under your skin, it’s not just the music – described by the band as everything from the micro-genres of ‘psychedelic dream-pop’ to ‘lo-fi indie electro’ – but also to absorb, lyrics of failed relationships, grim futureworlds, sadistic lovers, small-town claustrophobia.

Initially leaving an overly respectful gap at the front of the stage, the crowd were rapt as the last notes of an ambient modulating chord prepared for the start, Louis Slorach noodling away on guitar, Josh Mackenzie gulping some water, drummer Josh Gilbert getting in place.

Drumbeats set us off, The Moments plunged us instantly down the wormhole of this edgy world, Josh Mackenzie’s sepulchral vibrato setting the scene – “I was always late for your discos, you carved the time into my wrist, though …”.

Ouch. WHAT? Ears cocked to get the rest of the story, your body’s already lost to the melody and by chorus time you’re already murmuring along “I would die for you”, wondering about these bleeding feet and ‘glass tears’. And you start a listening game that will last the whole set, asking yourself – "Echoes of Depeche Mode, maybe? Is that guitar not taking you just for a minute to Anthony Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks?"

It’s not a game you are going to win – Josh Mackenzie’s not a plagiarist, but a disciple – still, it’s fun to play.

And as an opening song, it’s a brazen beginning that sucker punches every part of the anatomy – brain, ears, dancing equipment: engaged.

How do you follow that? Quickly and easily, as it turns out.

And as the set worked through previous singles Repetition Town, Somebody New and the songs of EP/mini-album Closet Romantic, the live test brought on a sense of euphoria.

When did you last hear a band debut with a whole night of songs to fall in love with?

Louis Slorach (left) and Josh Mackenzie with Josh Gilbert (just glimpsed) on drums.
Louis Slorach (left) and Josh Mackenzie with Josh Gilbert (just glimpsed) on drums.

Through the set, Josh Mackenzie alternated between guitar and electronic keys, there was even some Z Cars-style whistling in the engaging second of two unreleased songs that nestled into the centre of the night. And promising more to come before we’d even got to the end of this first contact with these otherworldly hits, that song continued the set’s masterclass on love – “It’s OK to make those mistakes, when you’re golden, when you’re young”.

It was the bittersweet obsessive regret of Somebody New that was almost the song of the night with big audience cheers, after the frontman beforehand suggested we might want to move forward and dance.

“Parents, don’t get any ideas!” he mock-warned the crowd and any of the hometown band’s elders who might have been ready to break out their moves. But of course they were too cool for that ...

Setting a melodica to his lips, Josh added to the woozy melody of Let Me Go By (a track from the Closet Romantic mini-album), until the dinky little instrument disappointed him in some way, and he chucked it aside. But, as with many of the songs, you can imagine a future for it where it could be everything from a one-man and guitar acoustic track to a full-on dance arena remix.

And the future is where the gig ended, the band leaving the stage after Let Me Go By to return to a “Josh-U-A!” chant – a grinning Josh Mackenzie suggesting “F***ing hell boys, you need to work on that one!”

But the full-on encore was nostalgia for our current messy and misfiring hook-ups, as the set climaxed in the chilling cyberverse of Love Is An Algorithm, an irresistible electro-disco melody with synth sound and guitars mashing up like love birds, an apocalyptic vision of a futuristic vacuum of romance on a “silent highway of time … beyond the last sign of human life”.

I've been humming it ever since ... MC

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