The queue outside to get a good spot to see Los Angeles band CANNONS play London’s Heaven stretched to almost the entire length of Villiers Street.

Formed in 2013, the trio comprising of Michelle Joy (vocals), Ryan Clapham (guitar) and Paul Davis (keyboards + bass) released their first EP ‘Up All Night’ in 2014. They have been on an upward trajectory since the release of their 2017 debut album ‘Night Drive’. Indeed, the Heaven gig was a consequence of an upgrade from Lafayette in Kings Cross due to public demand.

While CANNONS might have started off sounding a bit like NO DOUBT meeting STEELY DAN, subsequent albums ‘Shadows’ and ‘Fever Dream’ reinforced the more pop indiewave aesthetic like CHROMATICS but with a sunnier disposition. In support of their new long player ‘Heartbeat Highway’, CANNONS’ impressive recent run of sold out headlining shows have included a European sojourn. For these dates, support came from NINA & RADIO WOLF.

Known as “The Queen Of Synthwave”, this was NINA’s welcome return to the London stage after 5 years. Meanwhile for RADIO WOLF aka Oliver Blair, this was his first London appearance since 2018 when he was a de facto member of PARALLELS. However, the Canadian guitarist and producer could be seen as something of a London scene veteran having been in HOTEL MOTEL, a band which also featured Italians Do It Better artist Jorja Chalmers in its line-up.

When NINA & RADIO WOLF took to the stage to a packed venue, the first striking observation was the new raunchier thigh length booted presence of NINA. Alongside her leather jacketed partner, there was a sound to match as showcased from the start with ‘Tokyo Cowboy’. While guitar was a dominant component over the synthwave of her previous work, gritty pulsing electronics formed the backdrop to suit the more sinister mood exemplified by titles such as ‘Psychotic’ which was possessed by a guitar riff not far off DEPECHE MODE’s ‘I Feel You’.

NINA & RADIO WOLF gave space for their recently issued two singles ‘My Dark’ and ‘Bluesbreaker’, the former being a wide ranging accessible slice of darkwave while the latter pulled the surprise of harmonica. Open to other influences such as the frantic machine rhythms of early COCTEAU TWINS single ‘Peppermint Pig’ on ‘To See You’, NINA & RADIO WOLF have cultivated a distinct sound that proved to be a perfect warm up for the headline act.

Live, CANNONS are augmented by drummer Ben Hilzinger and while they are very a tight band that specialises in what they call “future boogie”, Michelle Joy was the visual focus and cheer leader for audience interaction. With a dreamy sexy voice that can be compared to Gwen Stefani,  Susanna Hoffs and Ruth Radelet, she also has an engaging personality that enhances her appeal.

Opening with the ‘Heartbeat Highway’ title song, it was a pointer to the less synth layered sound of the new album compared with its predecessor ‘Fever Dream’; but from the latter, ‘Bad Dream’ displayed the synthier platitudes that helped CANNONS achieve that wider breakthrough. Back to the new record, ‘Loving You’ brought whistles and a groove while not a cover, ‘Talk Talk’ from ‘Shadows’ took the pace down as ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ entered into Hall & Oates blue eyed soul territory.

The pairing of ‘Hurricane’ and the glorious ‘Ruthless’, both from ‘Fever Dream’, was perfect with the latter coming with a massed beckoned “F*CK YOU” to round off the catchy choruses. Meanwhile, ‘Come Alive’ recalled another CHROMATICS influenced act R.MISSING in its enigmatic allure.

The optimistic electronic pop of ‘Crush’ returned the focus to ‘Heartbeat Highway’ but revisiting ‘Fever Dream’ again, ‘Purple Sun’ played with synth reggae before the main section of the set closed with ‘Fire for You’ which featured in a 2020 episode of the Netflix comedy-drama series ‘Never Have I Ever’ and boosted CANNONS’ international profile.

Following the encore of the breezy ‘Desire’ from ‘Heartbeat Highway’ and 2015 standalone single ‘Evening Star’, CANNONS left behind many smiling faces. Like with NATION OF LANGUAGE, there are signs of a similar trajectory as they too went from Lafayette to Heaven previously. With the enthusiastic reception at this show, there is no doubt that when CANNONS return to the UK, it will not just be at a bigger venue in London but part of a whole tour.

CANNONS new album ‘Heartbeat Highway’ is out now as a vinyl LP under exclusive license to Columbia Records

NINA & RADIO WOLF ‘My Dark’ + ‘Bluesbreaker’ are available on the usual online platforms

Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
25 March 2024