Fresh from their appearance at SXSW and a packed week of NYC gigs, Telegram blazed, marched and paraded through a set of tightly wound, well-conceived, and – it must be said – extraordinarily loud songs at Pianos on Thursday, March 24. As a Brit myself I was heartened when the band, with their British accents and modest entourage, quietly streamed into the audience to catch the end of opening act Stephen Babcock and have a Stella or two. I mention their entrance to the room, before they even got on stage, because their noticeability in a crowded room is pretty relevant: these guys, with leather tightly fitted and hair impressively styled, properly look like they are in a band. Once they are on stage, photographer Thom McKenna says to me, grinning: ‘One of the most English things I have ever seen.’ I agree, only to be caught off guard by the accent of frontman Matt Saunders as he introduces the band after their second song: ‘We’re from London’, he says, but his voice is not. A furrowed brow and a Google search later I confirm that Matt is, in fact, Welsh. It was the first of many times last night that my expectations were subverted by Telegram.
Telegram hurtled through their first couple of songs with bold assurance, gain-soaked instruments and a touch, I think it is fair to say, of glam-rock styling. It is tempting to lump Telegram in with a troupe of other ‘new psych bands’, as the Guardian did back in 2014, and as I had mentally done before even arriving at the show. But their third track of the night, ‘Inside/Outside’, with the its syncopated hi-hats and danceable snare cracks sharply glimmering through the mid-range overdrive, sets Telegram apart by the distinctiveness of their instruments and their musicianship. It cannot be overstated quite how loud the set was – one hopes for their sake that Matt, Pip, Moon and Cook wear ear-plugs on stage – but loudness does not equate to a hot mess. The guitar playing got pretty relentless at times, but it was always precise, with the rhythm often only hitting punchy downstrokes and the lead reverberating, echoing, and not ever, to my ear, muffling a note.
The bassist, Moon, is normally at the sonic frontier of the band’s sound. This is the case with their cover of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The bass is the backbone of the cover, and it does not fail to please the audience. The cover may well have been the highlight of the evening, which is no bad thing; nonetheless, it does make me wonder what it is about the song that makes it stand out just slightly above the rest of the band’s set. Perhaps it is the sheer spaciousness of ‘Heroes’, the way it demands that whoever is playing it give it room to breathe. Telegram’s sound can occasionally get so intense that they miss opportunities to let melodies expand, for ideas to soar and grow, as they instead move swiftly on to the next raging chord. As Telegram moves forward, I wonder if they will try to make room for more of whatever it is they managed to capture in that Bowie cover.
On Friday, March 25th, Telegram played at Brooklyn’s Shea Stadium. I am jealous of anyone who could make it and catch this forceful and impressive band on their last evening in New York City. Here’s hoping they return soon.