Esben and the Witch @ The Mercury Ballroom

by Jen Hazen

Full disclosure: prior to watching British band Esben and the Witch play at Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge last Saturday, I hadn’t listened to their entire full-length album, Violet Cries. (It released on Matador in February.) This is shameful for 2 reasons:
1. Goth is in my blood; My black, brooding blood. When Esben first released the single “Marching Song” in late 2010 I listened to it for two days straight. This obsessive cycle was only broken by Sisters of Mercy’s “Dominion.” See? Darkness. Gothness.

2. And then there’s the song’s hypnotizing video—close-up shots of each band member’s face, cyclically appearing, gradually becoming more bloody and bruised. It pushed the tune’s anxiety factor over the edge. I was in love. Of course, I facebooked the hell out of it because my coven of friends needed to witness the brilliance.

So, why hadn’t I listened to the album yet? No idea. Shame on me.

Anyway, the band took the Mercury’s tiny stage and I didn’t know what the hell to expect. I knew that something spellbinding and sinister was about to happen. You feel my gothness when I use words like “spellbinding” and “sinister”, don’t you?

I can’t tell you the set list. What I can tell you is that I experienced an hour of music that is destined to soundtrack a psychologically disturbing, spine-chilling thriller. Or a voodoo ritual. Every song captured an uneasy heart-in-your-mouth / knot-in-your-stomach feeling. Singer Rachel Davies stood by a big drum surrounded with cymbals. Her mussed-up long hair, backlit by red lights glowing down onto the stage, looked like it was  in flames.
Make no mistake, this woman wails. And it’s pretty fascinating to watch. Davies wielded two drumsticks most of the time as she sang, pummeling the drum and then lifting her arms overhead to click the sticks together at lightning speed. Guitarist Daniel Copeman stumbled all over the stage as he played, seemingly possessed by the music while keyboardist/guitarist Thomas Fisher was more composed, but compelling nonetheless, with his intense gaze aimed at the audience.

As I left the Mercury and walked out onto Houston Street, the sidewalks were crammed with partying college kids and tourists spilling out of the famous Katz’s Deli. I admit I felt a little faint of heart. Even though I wasn’t alone, I kept looking over my shoulder the entire way home, walking a little bit faster than usual.

photo © Angel Ceballos

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.