Hot on the heels of their second, LP, which saw them work with Stuart Price and Everything Everything’s Alex Robertshaw, Sundara Karma are taking the new material out on the road.
Two years ago I witnessed Reading’s Sundara Karma struggle their way through a 30 minute set at Portsmouth’s Victorious Festival. There was guitar and mic malfunctions and a crowd who clearly only wanted to hear The Flame and She Said and be done with them. It was a rather miserable watch and the band just seemed to go through the motions.
I wrote them off as just another indie pop band who will probably come up on a ‘Whatever Happened To..?’ article alongside Red Light Company and The Automatic. However, everyone loves a rebirth and Sundara Karma have butterflied into a whole new entity. Goodbye long hair and tight shirts and hello corsets, shaved heads and suits designed by Curtain World.
On their latest record, Ulfilas’ Alphabet, Sundara Karma have taken a side step away from being a Radio X friendly guitar band with an ear for a catchy chorus. Front man Oscar Pollock has blossomed into an androgynous glam star, comfortable wearing nothing but a corset on stage, while surrounded by a band who are very much on board with the new image and sound. Some of the less clued-up fans did look rather baffled as the band came on stage at the O2 Guildhall, but those who have enjoyed the new record would have heard that this is a band who are brimming with confidence and creativity and they project this on stage.
Pollock glides around the stage, arms lifted high to engage the audience into recent single, Higher States. It takes a while for the crowd to react, as the majority spend the entire song taking photos of themselves and occasionally the actual band – a plight that cursed most the of the show. Pollock even asked everyone “to live in the present”, clearly bored of performing to phones set to Facebook Live. However, he did go on to compliment us post Happy Family as having “the best reaction to the song ever”.
Sundara karma performed virtually all of Ulfilas’ Alphabet, a brave step considering the album has only been out a short while. It was clear the young fans favoured the earlier work still, and the more introspective new tracks like Changeover and Sweet Intention struggled to win their attention. However tracks like The Flame and Loveblood shifted the audience into a completely different gear; mosh circles and young ladies climbing up on guy’s shoulders. It must be quite hard for the band not to be tempted into playing for the audience – a few more of the older singles would have probably created a better balance. But they obviously genuinely adore their new record and are confident that tracks like the outstanding Home and show closer Symbols of Joy & Eternity will win them over in time.
The band sure like to leave a crowd waiting and it was almost three minutes before they returned – though Pollock’s costume change may have been a factor. He was now sporting a delightful face mask and antennae. A Song For My Future Self sounds even more Ronson-era Bowie live, and I half expected guitarist Ally Baty and Oscar Pollock to re-enact the famous Starman Top of The Pop performance. Indigo Puff is given a huge ovation by the loyal fans, but the five and a half minute Ulfilas’ Alphabet was an odd step for an encore and sapped the energy from the room; lucky they still had One Last Night On This Earth in their back pocket, the perfect closer. An oddly paced set list, but a band who are growing as performers and are hopefully going to be offering up some brilliant surprises in the years to come.