When life is being a bit sh1tty to you, it’s good to look after yourself and retreat to the familiar when you can. For me, one of my “familiars” is the warm safe womb of my local live music venue, The Parish. So, although Norway’s Pom Poko were not a name or sound familiar to me, when I played a few sample tracks and liked them, I made the last minute effort to put on my scruffs and my smile and go down to see them live. Dear reader, Pom Poko are all about what makes live music so good.
So Pom Poko are named after a Japanese animated film featuring shape shifting Japanese Raccoon dogs. Pom Poko is actually the title of a Japanese children’s poem from 1919, which have the raccoons banging their bellies. Pom Poko is the noise of a banged Raccoon belly. So, now you know. Every day is a school day.
From the first track in the set, My Candidacy from the band’s most recent 2021 album Cheater, Pom Poko were out of the traps and racing. I had spotted a young punter stood front centre right from the start of the support act’s set. It was clear he was determined to get the best view in the house, and it wasn’t long into the Pom Poko set before I understood why.
What immediately struck me was how insanely good lead vocalist Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit is live. Vocally, Ragnhild is naturally playful, and I can understand the description of her voice being almost childlike in tone and style. She certainly has a rare purity, which comes through immediately on the stage. The band have explained that the Cheater album was almost recorded “live” in style, and I get that Pom Poko have the skill and talent to do that without resorting to a lot of fuss and overdub time in the studio.
The band have had some jazz musical training, and while I wouldn’t necessarily describe the Pom Poko music as jazz, there are certainly a lot of free form elements in the sound, which to me kind of felt like I was watching a gymmast on a beam; there was plenty of opportunity for any of the four musicians to fall off that beam of beat hurt, but Pom Poko nail it every time and not least with Ragnhild hitting it perfect on the beat, pitch and tune after each musical double back salto.
In terms of overall sound, I did kind of get a feel for very early Wolf Alice (yes, I was lucky enough to be there), but I was perhaps swayed by the confidence and sheer fun that Ragnhild displayed in her performance., which reminded me too of those Wolf Alice days. I also got something for the dark, post punk, indie with a twist style of someone like Kleenex, The Raincoats, or even Delta 5, only given a bright spit and polish, and a layer of stronger musical footings. Again, I think it was the sheer confidence of the band on stage that came through. I loved the changes in pace and tempo in the individual songs, it gave a complexity to the tunes, and it felt like I needed to explore all the different folds and petals in this musical flower that Pom Poko had created.
Pom Poko gave us a good run through of tracks from both Cheater and their slightly more spiky 2019 debut album Birthday. There was an amusing aside where there was a slight loss in translation moment as in the introduction to the title track of the first album, Ragnhild told us to shout out if it was our birthday and not to if it wasn’t. Not wrong. Likewise, on my short chat with the band I explained I always realise a band are tight and on the beat by feeling whether the drums stand out from the main sound. It perhaps came across like I hadn’t heard the drums at all, when in fact it was more that the music felt fully combined and true.
Also from that first album were tracks like My Blood, Day Tripper, Follow the Lights, and to close the set a banging and spirited If You Want Me 2 Stay. It seemed clear that Pom Poko wanted to stay on that stage as much as we wanted them to. More Thursday nights should be made this way.