On a rainy Saturday 29 October, St Andrews students filled the cosy oceanside Saint Sizzle in anticipation for Downstem’s first independent gig. The sounds of electric guitars and drums roared across the usually quaint Scores as I approached the venue. I instantly knew I was in the right place.
Upon arrival the venue is already packed to near capacity at 7:30, a full hour before Downstem are set to hit the stage. As I made my way across towards the front the excited crowd grew tighter in formation, the front row being a mere 5 feet away from the bands.
The supporting acts were The Collective and Raincheck, both St Andrew’s very own student bands and both strong openers. Raincheck in particular, dazzled the crowd with multiple original tracks and especially with their soulful performance of the original song “Fly Away”.
The clock hits 8:30, the lights focus and the crowd roars with excitement as Downstem makes their way to the stage. Dressed up in costume in true Halloween spirit, the lead singer Mona is Hugh Heffner while the bassist Noo, guitarist Elijah and drummer Solomon are (naturally) the Playboy Bunnies.
The band opens their impressive 13 song setlist with Harry Styles’ “Kiwi”, knowing exactly how to get their crowd going. This is followed swiftly by Downstem’s original song “Manipulator”. Originals are never easy to integrate into a setlist but they did this perfectly, as the crowd, following the lead set by the band’s shaking bunny ears, headbangs along to Elijah’s guitar riffs.
The wide-eyed crowd lap it up as Downstem tear through what amounts to a greatest hits set: mixing Nirvana’s 90s grunge, Bluesy Beatles, classic pop, contemporary punk and Downstem originals. Notably their cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” was a smash hit with the audience and with this author; their Rock ‘n’ Roll spin on the classic meshed perfectly with Mona’s deep vocals and Solomon’s exceptional drumming fills. To say that the concertgoers were ecstatic and wholly consumed by the performance is to say nothing.
As the band takes a rightfully earned break in the middle of their set, the crowd reluctantly lets them go, and I manage to catch a few of them outside. They are overjoyed with how the show is going and especially the massive turnout. In talking to Noo he briefly surmises the band’s sentiment, “We did it. Music is being played!”.
Back from their break Downstem performs the remainder of their setlist highlighted with their Halloween special, a cover of “Monster Mash”. The crowd is now beyond themselves, standing inches from the band, headbanging, dancing and singing along. A true high. As the band concludes, they play two more originals: “Guidance” and “You don’t need to tell me”, the latter being a true standout of the night, Mona singing and Noo chiming in with strong raspy vocals.
But they aren’t done yet. The crowd wants more, so they chant for “one more song” which Downstem happily grants. So as the night draws to a close, the crowd is slow to disperse, still riding the high of the show, many stopping by to congratulate the band on an outstanding gig. It seems that an exciting chapter has begun for Downstem, with such success at Saint Sizzle. They are surely ones to watch out for in the St Andrews music scene.
Photo: Naina Zilbermints