TVD Live Shots: HMLTD at the Garage, 2/20

When I first moved to the UK several years ago, I had a friend visiting from the States, and we wanted to see some live music. He was staying in SoHo, so the first thing that popped into my head was the legendary 100 Club. Let’s just show up, buy a ticket, and see what happens. After all, this place is always known to have a good lineup. The band that was playing that night was HMLTD (aka Happy Meal Limited). Neither one of us had ever heard of them before, but the room was packed, and I never pass up a chance to go to this place. What happened next changed my entire perception of the London music scene.

It was one of the coolest shows that I’ve ever seen before. It was as if Adam Ant, The Clash, and Bowie had a number of glam, punk, rock ‘n’ roll bastard children who decided to form a band. They had it all—the theatrics, the elaborate stage wear, and the attitude, but most importantly, the songs. The songs were there, and they were over the fucking top, full of glammed up piss and adrenaline, and they were remarkably catchy. As it would turn out, they were far more creative than anyone on the scene, had a massive buzz about them, and could do no wrong at the time. Then they made a deal with the devil, and all hell broke loose.

Having worked in the music industry for more than a decade myself, I’ve seen it a million times. Sign hot new band, promise them the world, tell them that they have full creative direction, then beat them down by trying to fit them into a money-making machine while sacrificing the band’s true potential and magic, if you will. Then finally, when the band is reaching its breaking point fighting for what’s right, the label leaves them high and dry. This type of situation happens more than anyone would like to admit, and it’s the curse of the gamble of signing to a major label. Sometimes it works, but the majority of the time it ends careers.

Thankfully HMLTC would persevere and get their stellar long-awaited debut out on their terms on a new label that actually gives a shit about the band, their audience, and what will become of a crazy start to their legacy. The result is The West is Dead, an absolutely brilliant collection of songs that come together and play out as more of a matured sophomore release from a band that has successfully navigated the murky waters of an overhyped, underperforming debut album. They seem to have skipped that and went right into making the best record they could make. The dynamic booms of “Loaded,” the downtempo bleakness of “The West is Dead,” and the synth-pop genius of “Mikey’s Song” delivers something for everyone.

The band that I saw in 2017 at the 100 Club and the one I saw last week at The Garage are not the same. The glam has been stripped down a bit and replaced with a bit of well-deserved angst. They seem to be very confident with the new material, as they should, and the renewed focus showcases a band on the brink of the reward for not sacrificing their originality and sound for anyone.

It was a brilliant show, but holy shit, the lights were harsh for the photographers (including me). I’ve had the new record on repeat all week, and the songs translate perfectly to the live show and back to the record. That’s a rare thing to see these days with the over-reliance on technology. HMLTD found a nice balance, and I can’t wait to see the live show again (hopefully with a bit more light, that is). The very public battle with said major label is summed up pretty well here in this interview, and it was also the talk of the crowd at the gig last week in London at the Garage. Thank God that didn’t overshadow the music.

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